[Current Topics in Psychology]

 

A.P.A. Convention Highlights

American Psychological Association
115th Annual Convention - San Francisco, CA
August 17-20, 2007


These edited reports were originally posted to the Current Topics, Therapy Online, and Cyberpsychology list-servs, August 2007.  


2007 Convention Highlights:
Humanizing an Inhumane World | Opening Session | Albert Bandura | Linehan, on Suicide
Psychology's Future | Conversation with Aaron T. Beck - 2007 | Evil, Hate, & Horror

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"Asynchronously Live" from San Francisco



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*DISCLAIMER*
I was very careful to take accurate notes during these presentations (including several pithy verbatim quotes), using handouts and/or photos of graphics to verify my notes. I apologize for any remaining errors or typos, and will be happy to immediately correct any mis-quotes, misattributions or mis-spellings brought to my attention. I welcome presenters' submission of additional online references which are relevant to (or mentioned in) these reports. Thanks, and... Enjoy! I hope you find this slice of psychology interesting and informative.

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APA CONVENTION REPORT #1

August 17, 2007




[San Francisco]
Asynchronously Live from San Francisco!

17 August 2007

Hi, and greetings from San Francisco!
Asynchronously live from the APA Convention... APA's 115th Convention, reported on in virtual real-time, hopefully providing those who cannot be at the convention here & now with an sense of the live interactions and presentions.

This year, like the past 2 or 3, has a much-condensed program, so it's a shorter duration and many time slots have a number of excellent presentations all competing, same time, different places. As usual, the sessions I attend and report on are representative of my own areas of interest, primarily clinical psychology, psychotherapy, online/computer-facilitated mental health tools and resources, and some of the keynote/plenary sessions on the big trends and issues of general psychology.

Today the official opening session is about to begin, and already the symposia have started and the exhibition hall is open, replete with registration lines, APA booths, and the CyberCafe, in addition to the book publishers and purveyors of clinical services, tools, and goodies.

FWIW... San Francisco is sunny and pleasant today, around 70 degrees plus or minus (depending on wind and proximity to hills and bay). And now, here's an opening-day Town Hall Forum on hot-button issues of our times, with the audience hearing and eliciting the views of a distinguished panel of former APA Presidents. Here comes the first of several reports on APA events, "asynchronously live" for your information and enjoyment.

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First up today: A panel of luminaries, all past APA Presidents who met in a town hall forum (presenting, then taking questions from moderator Frank Farley, and then from the audience) on the topic of "Humanizing an Inhumane World".

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[Humanizing an Inhumane World]
L-R: P.DeLeon, F.Denmark, R.Sternberg, F.Farley, M.Seligman

Humanizing an Inhumane World

This panel clearly was quite worldly in perspective, as seen in the course of a wide-ranging discussion on global trends and events. One panelist (Pat DeLeon) is very involved as chief of staff to a Congressman and another (Florence Denmark) is part of an advisory group to the United Nations. Others have been doing research and implementing studies in other countries as well as the U.S. As became clear -- and with diverse perspectives ranging from Martin Seligman's focus on "positive psychology" to Robert Sternberg's observations about how basic recreation and learning activities have been changing within our culture -- our world is becoming an increasingly warring, traumatizing place, with so much INhumanity that the problem clearly extends beyond any one organization (like APA) or any single approach, or single country. So ultimately presenters shared their own orientations towards the *psychological* realities underpinning things ranging from hate and bullying on one hand, to creating positive, caring societies on the other, with many points in between.

Frank Farley, President of the APA Division of Humanistic Psychology, moderated, introducing the speakers and beginning the discussion with an allusion to the end line of "Apocalypse Now" - "the horror" - citing today's many horrors which have engulfed so much of life for so many of the world's people.

Pat DeLeon spoke about his background in politics and law, underscoring how much of our political system is run by lawyers (of which he is one) and how "lawyers think differently" than process-oriented psychologists typically do. DeLeon suggested that leaders need to hear more from people like Seligman, about how people are really thinking. He noted that in the case of so much violence, "trauma seems to be most relevant only to those who are personally touched" by it.

Florence Denmark was introduced as "APA's point person at the U.N." and Dr. Farley wondered if she might be able to have some positive role in helping the UN to "humanize the world". Dr. Denmark clarified that she is in fact part of a team, and underscored that there are many people and organizations concerned with the welfare of the world's dehumanized/traumatized populations. "The NGO's [Non-Governmental Organizations] are quite concerned with humanitarian issues", she observed, but "it's very different when you get to the top" in terms of trying to influence large policy decisions, for example in the UN General Assembly. She has seen some good things come out of various committees-- for example the committee on aging which she chairs -- and sometimes policy influence can lead to things like spearheading support for women's issues and the rights of children. Unfortunately, while most countries have signed onto these doctrines, amazingly (or not?) the United States has not. The efforts continue: Coming up this fall there will be a "Psychology Day" at the UN, with several panels on topics such as conflict resolution and response to national disaster.

Robert Sternberg (famed for his work in "intelligence" and "the new 4 R's") began by reflecting on a recent visit to his old neighborhood in a New Jersey suburb, and being struck immediately by the absence of children playing on the street. Why? Well, probably they have "much better things to do, like watching Baby Einstein on DVD". Dr. Sternberg mentioned the recent study which demonstrated that time spent on such passive video/DVD activity rather than social/physical activity actually results in LESS verbal ability rather than more.

Sternberg went on to extend that notion to that of "preparing" students through a process of SAT studying. As Dean of Tufts University, he was discomforted by the over-reliance on a particular tool such as SAT's, which research has shown are best at predicting success at taking similar tests, and not necessarily much more generalizeable than that. (Even "IQ" is not necessarily predictive of "success" Sternberg noted, as there is evidence of people who make big impacts on the world being "creative", "practical", and "wise".) Sternberg did a study at Tufts, taking a bit of a risk in altering the admission process by requiring applicants to write creative essays such as "Confessions of a Middle School Bully" or "Suppose Rosa Parks had given up her seat" in addition to showing how well they could score on SAT's. In the end, though he was unsure how it would turn out, SAT scores actually went up, and the accepted students had a unique experience, and a positive one. In his view, "a goal was to increase the humanity of the application process". One example of taking action on behalf of humanizing daily experience.

Next to make introductory remarks was Martin Seligman. He began by sharing that once upon a time "I had the idea that if you get rid of a patient's anxiety and depression you'd have a happy person", but he found out that's not true. "Often you end up with an *empty* person." Similarly, he has concluded that there is a difference between making efforts at "ending inhumanities" and (positively) "humanizing the world". He noted that Tracy Chapman (the singer/songwriter) presents songs which are "all about ending inhumanity", but not necessarily pointing the way to *creating* a humanistic world. "Roses don't grow on their own if you simply clear space for them". They need to be planted and nurtured too. Seligman noted how there is currently some discussion in Europe/UK/Australia along the lines of: "Should there be an index, not only of Gross National Product, but also of Gross National Wellbeing?" He cited Nietzsche's 3 stages, of (1) the camel, who bore suffering; (2) The rebel who said no ("our past 200 years"); and (3) the child who is reborn, and says yes. So from his perspective the challenge is to learn "what we can do to diminish the negatives; what we can do *positively*; how to foster more purpose in the world; and how to bring about more accomplishment and success."

Seligman finished by sharing a bit of the origins for his evolving thinking in terms of "positive psychology", describing how even from the beginnings of his interest in psychology, "I didn't want to get rid of disorders; I wanted to promote wellbeing".

Dr. Farley, returning to Sternberg's comments on the changes in suburban culture, asked "What do we tell kids to do which is positive, rather than having "helicopter moms" hovering over them telling them what NOT to do?

Richard Suinn Richard Suinn widened the cultural perspective by sharing his observations in China, where he drew upon the *stories* he heard which included many metaphors for various life activities. He mentioned a legend of a temple's 30 steps, where "if you get to the top in one breath you were assured immortality". (He did it himself! In excellent shape and looking youthful and vigorous, he shared that he is now 74 years old.) He told the story of a prince who had everything, but upon seeing affliction and poverty, gave it all up. ("Maybe he was the first Buddha") His point, he said, was that "traditions are embedded in stories". And so we might reasonably look to our modern stories for reflections on our traditions. However, we no longer have oral traditions so much as our stories coming from TV. And what is popular culture as portrayed on TV? The Sopranos? "What are the values being transmitted?" Similarly, what do we learn from repeated experience with popular video games, many of which repeatedly "engage you in *aggressive* interactions"?

Suinn mentioned that the next day he would be involved in discussion with legendary social psychologist Albert Bandura, who is "working with Mexican TV trying to teach self-efficacy" as a way to empower women. He also notes a basic need for what he called "human connectedness", and mentioned some examples of the difficulties, in sports (his specialty) and even in the room now, where the room was mostly homogeneous (white). Suinn underscored the importance of being able to interact with a diversity of peoples, comfortably, and how that would contribute to humanizing our world.

Continuing with the Q&A segment, the panel was next asked "what to do".

Sternberg said that he has been engaged in teaching leadership courses, with real-world leaders interacting with the classes and focusing afterwards on "what makes a good leader". What seems clear is that there are in fact some common factors which seem to describe what makes a *!%#%y [bad] leader. And these are:
  1. Egocentrism- whether on the part of a President, CEO, Attorney General, referee, or whatever.
  2. A sense of false omniscience ("We know everything.")
  3. Omnipotence: "We can do whatever we want", and then announce "mission accomplished".
  4. False sense of invulnerability - no one can get back at them.
  5. Ethical disengagement - "Ethics are for other people", but they are exempt.
  6. When making mistakes, dig in deeper rather than learning from them.

Martin Seligman responded to a question about research methodology, observing that "there's been a tension between internal versus external validity. I think we erred badly on the side of internal validity".

Seligman mentioned that this summer 93 middle school teachers were trained in the UK, to employ positive psychology. Soon the same will take place in Australia as he goes there with a team of experts, for 6 months. "If we apply what we know to the real world, there will be a better chance at humanizing the world."

Dr. Suinn spoke of his reaction upon going to an MD when he had a knee problem and hearing a fancy-sounding diagnosis. He reacted that this was interesting "but what do you *do* about it? That is where we need to focus!" One issue he is concerned with is that of "attitude change". He recalled the change in attitude towards joggers and others who regularly work out, once having been seen as victims of "exercise addiction", but now accepted ("humanized"?) due to changes in attitudes, within our culture.

Dr. Denmark commented that one thing which she regrets is that "people don't really know what psychologists do", and probably should.

Dr. Farley added that he has "serious doubts" about the extent to which psychology has in fact acted to "humanize the world", although he thought some meetings with leaders do find a receptive ear. But there are also ingrained cultural/societal roadblocks to truly "humanistic" society. Why, for example are 25% of the world's prisoners found in the U.S.? What's wrong with our culture to produce a society of incarceration?

Dr. DeLeon underscored the importance of humanization in nursing homes, and the need for mental health services in the armed forces, and in schools. (Two members of the audience spoke to the horrific and shameful status of the NY City Schools, even post-9/11, where "psychological services" are not at all in evidence, an abysmal state of affairs in our country's largest school system.) One audience member reflected on the attitude in some circles of our (national) attitude of being "king of the hill" after the fall of the USSR.

Seligman replied that "what we're missing is not a public policy, but a public figure " who can bear the mantle of leadership in promoting a humane/humanistic world. He mentioned again that in the UK there is more of an overt attitude that "society is not [only] about wealth, but about wellbeing".

Other audience comments/questions ranged from slight annoyance ("So what do we do, specifically, besides saying the world sucks?") to more specific questions about where to start, and how to address cross-cultural barriers and differences.

Seligman mentioned a study of 70 nations which identified common factors among more humane societies: prudence, modesty, and self-control.

In the end, it was clear that there is no simple solution, politically or internationally, though education and communication do appear to play key roles. And in this era of endemic cruelty and violence and aggression at every turn, it is at least hopeful to see some of our greatest and most respected psychological thinkers engaged in trying to stimulate dialogue, research, and the quest to find common ground in thinking about both the problems and solutions.


Asynchronously Live from APA San Francisco Convention - Day 1 (Cont'd)

Hi again,

I'm back as the last notes die away from a rare musical event, an incredible jazz/blues singer from San Francisco named Kim Nalley.

And I'm sure you're hearing it first here (though of no great import in terms of psychology) - There was just an awesome bit of improv, as the ensemble was playing and Kim was belting out the blues: A fuse blew, there was a small pop, and the room went dark. However, the band was acoustic (piano, bass, drums) and without skipping a beat, the singer/actress finished the song and continued into Gershwin's "Summertime", taking a flashlight and walking into the crowd, still singing, with no microphone, but with a voice which carried across a huge hall with power and - umph! And the show went on. This was the ending to the Opening Ceremony.

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Next session: (Continuing) Discussion with Aaron T. Beck
Moderated by Dr. Frank Farley, who refers to Beck as "world's greatest psychiatrist". Dr. Beck is widely considered the "father of cognitive therapy".




[Beck-Farley 2007]

A CONVERSATION WITH AARON T. BECK AND FRANK FARLEY

For those who recall (or read here), this APA tradition began with a first-ever dialogue between Beck and Ellis, which was repeated a 2nd time before Ellis' health slipped away. (Ellis died on July 24, 2007, for anyone that missed that news.) So the session began by noting Ellis' passing and announcing a tribute session to him immediately after this event. There will also be a "wake" Sunday at 5.

Beck commented that "what was remarkable about Ellis is that he managed to break down so many of the old taboos", and he worked with patients in a "hands on" manner similar to the approach employed by Beck in many respects.

Dr. Farley opened today's dialogue with the simple question, "What's new?" Beck replied that he continues to be fascinated by the "application of cognitive therapy with schizophrenia". In the UK research has found that using "standard cognitive therapy but with adaptation" has been effective in treating schizophrenia, both the hallucinations and negative symptoms". He is now trying to import such research and treatment protocols to the US.

What Beck has found is an "intermediate variable between functioning and symptoms" which involves a "sense of failure". Using one his inventories he found profound examples of such sense of failure, "like holes in their head", where patients felt profoundly dysfunctional and unable to master their functioning so that their attitudes brought about social withdrawal and anhedonia. His response was to target the specific dysfunctional attitudes, not unlike Ellis' idea of ABC, but applied directly to hallucinations. The patient reacts to voices as if they are real, from the outside, and they can't do anything about it. The voices ruin everything, but all they can do is wait for them to go away, and just accept the helplessness. Meanwhile, evidence is accumulating which suggests that having these patients engage in purposeful, productive activities is helpful.

Dr. Farley asked for his reflections on his experience with John Nash (of "Beautiful Mind" fame), Nash having seemingly "self-treated" his schizophrenia eventually. Beck noted that "he's continued to progress despite the fact that he's a severe schizophrenic" and it is somewhat puzzling to fully understand why he has been so singularly successful. Beck, who had met with and assessed Nash a few years back, asked Nash for his ideas as to how he managed to cope on his own with such debilitating symptomology. As Nash described it to Beck, he (Nash) was traveling around Europe, having lost his passport and with no money left. He was destitute. He lost his family, lost his career... And even though he believed that saving the world was "his charge from God", he could see he wasn't getting anywhere. And so he decided he needed to change his behavior. "It seems he did cognitive therapy on himself"! Maybe too, Beck postulates, Nash had a large degree of "cognitive reserve", similar to people with mild TBI calling upon the undamaged areas of the brain to help function adaptively.

"Turning to Iraq", Dr. Farley segued (knowing that Beck has an interest and background in trauma/suicide ideation, including among soldiers), Beck was queried for thoughts on this still-relevant topic. Beck observed that a big issue in therapy with traumatized soldiers has been "loss of buddies". In fact, Beck wrote a paper during WW II about this, seeing suicidal ideation in response to feelings of guilt. There is obviously a great deal of trauma at this time too, among returning soldiers, to the point where "some people cry when they see a trash can on the side of the road - it looks like an Improvised Explosive Device." Others are not so impacted. The worst case seems to be where someone is "inundated with negative thoughts which persist". Here he again noted a relevant notion of Albert Ellis, that of "catastrophizing", adding that experience shows that outcome improves when such negative thinking is treated early on.

Beck was asked for any updates on his work with suicide intervention/prevention. He responded by citing a study which explored the efficacy of a 10-session intervention protocol and found a 50% reduction in repeat attempts among those in the treatment group. One contributing factor, he understands, may be that some of these patients would never have sought treatment on their own, certainly long-term treatment, in part based on life circumstances (mostly low SES). At the same time he credits much of the effectiveness in the "educational" component, particularly teaching of concrete strategies to employ in order to circumvent spiraling movement towards despair and acting out impulsively. As part of this protocol he introduces not only discussion and problem-solving steps but also the use of visual imagery, so that by the 9th session images (e.g., of the way they might try suicide) are intentionally introduced in order to teach ways of responding productively. And he "would be sure to ask if the patient who is suicidal uses imagery", such as seeing a noose on a tree, or whatever.

Returning to the notion he'd mentioned earlier, of an intervening variable between conscious thought and action, Beck noted that "in between an activating event and behavior, there are thoughts which the patient may not be aware of." As a clinical example he described a man who lashed out at his wife after a seemingly benign request to take out the garbage, which in fact activated a whole reservoir of anger about feeling (cumulatively) disrespected. So another technique which Beck employs would be to look for the fleeting thought which triggers the larger reaction. He might ask, "What were you thinking before you got angry, during the microsecond before the anger was triggered?"

Beck mentioned his interest in the latest APA Monitor where there is a study about the difficulty in treating obesity, and how meta-analysis suggests grim success rates for dieters (often regaining lost weight plus more). He wondered about ways in which we might help people to stay on a dietary regimen. (Perhaps some fleeting thought activates the trigger for food binging?)

Picking up on the "trigger" phenomenon and impulsivity, Farley asked Beck if anything new is on the horizon for treating Borderline personality disorder, widely seen as a difficult treatment group. Beck's reaction was that he would think along the line of personality disorder, or types, and then work with the beliefs and with coping strategies. He utilizes his own Personality Belief Questionnaire which helps identify, for example, dependent, or avoidant personality disorders. Above all (and here is his famous "hands on" approach!) Beck thinks it is vital to "put yourself in the shoes of a Borderline patient. How would YOU feel if you thought everyone is disgusted by you, or you have no control over anything?" Beck also employs this empathic approach with schizophrenics, to win trust, noting that he may not personally share hallucinations but would very much like to understand the person's experience.

Beck mentioned a study in Holland with 2 treatment groups: a schema-focused therapy versus a Kernberg-style, transference-oriented approach. The former produced better outcomes.

Taking audience questions, Beck responded to a question (mine) about suicide and imagery, citing the old axiom that risk may be higher when there is a clearly formulated plan. How does he handle it when there is such imagery, elicited during a session? Beck gave an example of using imagery throughout a scenario, but not only focused on the act of attempting suicide. In his example the patient has an argument with the boss and decides to go out for a drink. He ends up ruminating, when he's ready to go home, about how now he's going to get upset again going home to squalling kids and spouse, and so decides to have another drink, or go to a crack house, at which point he's on the road to visualizing suicide. One of the things which the patient is taught during the 10 sessions is making use of supports, tangible things like cards which specifically respond to crises points by providing clear instructions as to what to do or what not to do in response to such stressors. He also has clients prepare a "hope chest", with portraits of more positive possibilities, with friendly letters and so forth to look at. Beck uses a 10-step process, beginning with 1. Go to the hope chest; 2. Call a friend; and moving up a hierarchy to the point where #9 is "call your therapist" and #10 is "call 911".

Next came a comment and question from Jerome Singer, of Yale, who noted that "cognitive therapy's great strength is that it can be integrated with other modalities". Yet OTOH insurers and others are focused on more narrow "evidence based treatment". Another challenge lies in research, he reflected, as much of the research compares 2 types of treatments, for example CT versus pharmacotherapy. He wondered about Beck's thoughts here, considering a twofold question as well: 1) How should CT be practiced *ideally*? And 2) How is it practiced in the real world? Underpinning all of this is the observation that "patients are not homogeneous and neither are therapists".

Beck's response was to agree and amplify the point that psychotherapists "have to adapt to their own experience, their own personality, their own temperament".

With regard to Kernberg-style "transference"-based approaches, Beck made it clear: "I believe in transference; but I don't think you need to wait 2 years to address it! We talk about it right away." Continuing, Beck noted that "there are no 2 therapists that I've supervised who do therapy the same way." Farley agreed: "You can't manualize cognitive therapy"".

Another question was put forth about working with psychotic ideation: How would the therapist avoid becoming a part of the delusional system, for example seen as yet another persecutor?

Beck replied, "It is critical to establish trust early on. And if you're not the prescribing physician there's a much better opportunity". [The patient won't think you're poisoning or coercing them, etc., but you are simply talking and trying to help, so there's a better chance of trust.] "We never challenge the delusion," he added. Instead, "we try to get the therapist to key into the patient's frame of reference. For example, 'I don't have the same perspective but perhaps you could show me' what you are thinking/feeling."

Someone mentioned Beck's recent appearance on the Charlie Rose show - it is available on his website, charlierose.com, and having seen it myself can recommend checking that out.)

The question was put forth about what more might be said about the phenomenon of actual physiological changes in the brain resulting from therapy. Beck began by saying that "the brain reflects what's going on in the patient's life".

In terms of research, a Toronto study of CT versus pharmacotherapy utilized pre and post-treatment brain scans. Both types of treatment changed the brain but with CT the changes were "top down" while with drugs the change was "bottom up". More importantly perhaps, pharmacotherapy "does not change the brain permanently but CT does", and there is less likelihood of relapse with CT. Thus, while taking care to avoid being mis-quoted or to overstep the data, Beck shared that he believes from what he's seen that "cognitive therapy does seem to be a 'cure', sometimes."


ELLIS MEMORIAL

The session ended with an invitation to join a memorial to Albert Ellis nearby, and I went to that, as did Beck and Farley, and many others. He was recalled both personally and professionally with great fondness, despite his well-known acerbic qualities and salty language. He was described as generous with his time (even as his health was drastically deteriorating) and completely dedicated to his mission, giving all the proceeds from his 85 books to his Institute.

[Ellis Poster]

One of Ellis' admirers, a publisher, said that Ellis' bibliography is available at impactpublishers.com or bibliotherapy.com

From 1951's "The Folklore of Sex" and 1958's "Sex Without Guilt", to his ribald songs, and efforts to get audiences to recite anatomical parts, his provocative yet humorous style broke taboos and earned him a worldwide reputation.

One speaker eulogized Ellis as "the greatest humanitarian since Ghandi".

Other snippets:

Ellis founded RBT in 1955, during the heyday of psychoanalysis and behavior therapy. "For Al, the testing ground was meaningful experience".

Ellis was very into both psycholinguistics and ancient philosophers, this in a time of "absolutist" therapies, ranging from Rogers on one end to Freud on the other.

Film clips were shown, including a therapy segment, and a TV interview where Ellis commented that "the past is not critical" and "we stick largely in the present".

A big portrait of Ellis stood at the podium, and a large number of people turned up to watch, speak, and listen.

Albert Ellis, R.I.P.
 

OPENING SESSION

Briefly, this session was largely to award citations and honors, and to share announcements and a proclamation from the mayor of San Francisco.

The session began with 1/2 hour of music from Los Compas, followed by welcomes and citations, the mayoral proclamation, and an APA award for outstanding lifetime contributions to psychology, which went to Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman. More awards followed, along with acknowledgement of international leaders in psychology and an announcement about two APA leaders moving on (the CFO towards retirement and Russ Newman to become a university provost). Next a citation was awarded to Representative/Governor Ted Strickland, and the event ended with a unique finale: a musical performance by Kim Nalley, which included a power failure midway through, plunging us into darkness. But she got a flashlight and continued without missing a beat, belting out some jazzy blues and walking with her flashlight among the audience, still accompanied by her (acoustic) band. Wow!

One last anecdote to share, from this opening ceremony. Daniel Kahneman, now at Princeton, earned fame for his work with Amos Tversky in studies of judgment under uncertainty and of decision making (which he said gets mistaken for "rationality"). He also won the Nobel Prize in 2002, for economics. A charming, gracious man, amidst his recollections of his main body of work, he mentioned a special debt of gratitude to Walter Mischel, famed explorer of personality traits. Mischel undertook a "single question" study in Jamaica, asking children to choose between receiving one small lollipop now or a much larger lollipop tomorrow. Their decisions, he believes, "predicted everything - with a single question. You know the child who chose the deferred lollipop is going to do well in life."

Well, that's my small lollipop for today, with more to come!

And that's it for Day 1, Asynchronously Live from San Francisco, APA's 115th Convention, 17 August 2007.

As always, my DISCLAIMER: I do my best to take verbatim notes and clarify any questions of attribution or fact - I welcome and appreciate any corrections and will correct any errors a.s.a.p.

Regards from San Fran!

--

ASYNCHRONOUSLY LIVE FROM APA - Pt. 3

Saturday 18 August 2007

The morning began, for me, with a session on "Transformed Social Interaction in Immersive Virtual Reality", presented by Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford University's Virtual Interaction Lab [ http://vhil.stanford.edu ] Although I had envisioned some focus on applications which might be employed in online mental health services, Dr. Bailenson clarified at the onset that his work has been oriented towards social psychology research, specifically "how individuals change in virtual rather than physical environments". His web site contains many references to the blossoming body of research in this field. His presentation today provided an overview (with definitions), some theory, empirical examples, and a discussion of ethics and implications. He described how even with cell phones there are digital conversions in the process so that we are not actually "hearing the voice" but a reconstructed rendering of the audio characteristics. Similarly, with VR, where for example one or more people are wearing a helmet with movement sensors and a display, the VR process involves "a cycle of tracking and rendering" using the hardware, software, and "rendering computer which constantly redraws the (virtual) world based on our movement".

Dr. Bailenson described the "1/2 hour process" of putting together a 3-dimensional avatar, so realistic it can be used in applications like police lineups, and also convincingly realistic for group interactions. Movement and visual feedback is tracked at 22 points at the rate of 20 images per second, so "as you move someone else sees your movement in exact approximation". He said it "takes 2 minutes to forget you're not physically in the room".

He has been looking at Transformed Social Interaction (TSI) where such things as the length of direct gaze, body posture, and more can be manipulated, offering an excellent tool for social science research. They have thus learned how to make communication "more persuasive", and also looked at the effect of making (virtual) changes in gender or attractiveness, to see the impact on the other(s). He alluded to a great number of studies, many replicated a number of times, and again suggested seeing the website for an extensive bibliography. Some of the interesting effects of the virtual manipulations include the "digital chameleon" phenomenon, where one person is subjected to imitation or mimicking of his/her own movements, with "positive results" (in that this seems to promote a sense of connectedness). Similarly there were (virtual) handshake studies where subjects actually were interacting with themselves (being imitated) but didn't know it, and ended up developing "positive affiliation".

Bailenson also spoke about the way in which 2 photos can be morphed from one to the other, and how the magic number seems to be 60/40 transformation before the change becomes quickly perceptible. One of the implications is that politicians might benefit from partially morphing towards a specific ethnicity in their photos, which may endear the target group to them more than simply putting on makeup. There was a lot of work and information which was quickly covered today, and for the interested: check out the virtual lab's web site.

Next up: a conversation with Albert Bandura.
 
[Albert Bandura]

PLENARY SESSION: UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH ALBERT BANDURA, PH.D.

Albert Bandura is a name known to virtually every student of introductory or social psychology, truly a legend of psychology. He was introduced by past-APA president Richard Suinn, who noted how easy it is to forget that "legends are real people" with life narratives of their own. Bandura, he noted, is the only son among 6 children of immigrant parents (Alberta CA). His father laid track for the railroad. Bandura was said (by Suinn) to have ended up studying psychology "by accident", something Bandura later elaborated upon. He followed what he thought was the Holy Grail of psychology study and went to Iowa, and got his doctorate there after finishing his undergrad study at University of BC. His "first and continuing job" was "just down the road in Palo Alto", at Stanford, beginning as a non-tenured acting instructor, and remaining there for 53 years. (Bandura commented: "It's not the miles you've traveled but the amount of tread you still have.")

Dr. Suinn began his questioning (to be followed later by audience participation) by observing how so many of us think immediately of Bobo dolls whenever Bandura's name comes up (given his seminal research on aggression, some of which he shared in a video clip). Suinn asked Bandura for his thoughts about this, and some context.

Bandura said that "when I got into this business behaviorism pretty much dominated the field. 'We only learn through direct experience'". He couldn't figure out how, in a complex society, everything could simply be derived from trial and error learning. But the alternative explanation of the time was psychoanalysis, and that was not so amenable to the empirical research which he felt was important to do. He came up with the BoBo doll paradigm as a way of studying "observational learning". And now, "the Bobo doll follows me everywhere I go", still. He shared how this had become "a stressor for my secretary" at times, especially when the Unabomber was on the loose, sending out packages to academics. He then shared a clip of the actual experiment, with some very aggressive children whacking the doll with mallets and pointing toy guns at it. A little girl was given a small doll and she used it to hit the Bobo doll.

As the study drew attention, Bandura recalled, he found himself coming under attack, and accused of "flawed research". Meanwhile the surgeon general put together a committee to explore the effects of televised violence. Now, he noted, such studies seem to come along every four years or so, timed to the political cycle. However, while "good for political purposes" it also led, as is often the case when working with public policy, to people casting aspersions on his scholarship. At the time he became a cover story on TV Guide, the article entitled "The Man in the Eye of the Storm", and he was generally attacked and berated.

Meanwhile, back in this century, Bandura - after about 50 years of exploring parameters of social aggression - has focused on emerging and mushrooming global issues, including: 1) emerging population growth; 2) raising the global status of women, respecting their dignity and reproductive rights; 3) curtailing the spread of the AIDS epidemic; and 4) abominations such as genital mutilation which is so prevalent in the Sudan. Next we were shown a video where a woman in Tanzania was interviewed about the gravity of life there, and where a man expressed reverence for "applying the social learning theory of Bandura", calling it "life saving", particularly insofar as encouraging conversations within families.

Next came the "up close and personal" interaction, with the assembled mass of psychologists here in San Francisco. Bandura fielded a question first about "free will" being the antithesis of a Skinnerian framework. Bandura responded that he's just finished a chapter specifically about free will, adding that "the notion of free will is ancient", and problematic for theologians and philosophers, often introducing other notions such as the Devil to account for some behaviors. In addition, in the real world, "paradoxically, in order to have freedom we need to surrender some of our autonomy", for example being willing to obey traffic rules. In exchange for this willingness to give up some autonomy, "we gain predictability and control". It's not a straightforward S-R paradigm, either, which we live by, but a "complex interplay of personal determinants": behavioral and environmental ("social/structural") determinants. Skinner, however, had a "unidirectional" schema where everything was environmental determination with no role at all for volition. He quipped that "most theorists exempt themselves from their notion of how people behave".

While Bandura expressed some healthy skepticism about "unidimensional" explanations for behavior (e.g., in the case of Skinner), he also confessed that he is "amused by post-modernists who argue that there is no one correct view" as well as the "physical eliminationists who credit neural networks with everything - but not their authorship".

Returning to the complexity of cognition and decision making, Bandura gave an illustration of how "we exercise 2 levels of control which involve *secondary* control." To get to San Francisco, he does not need to know about the combustion properties of his automobile engine, "the neural network of the car". But he does plan a route and make hotel reservations in advance, all requiring a great deal of (volitional) cognitive activity. Moreover, "if we get into the notion that we're reducing psychology to biology, we can't stop there." We need to start getting into chemistry, physics, etc. As far as he can tell though, "we can't go to a particle physicist and ask, 'how do we produce an efficacious teacher?"

Bandura was asked to elaborate on his current thinking regarding "self-efficacy", to which he responded that it is essentially "belief in your abilities [but] it's NOT a decontextualized trait"; one needs to consider (as in his planning the trip to San Francisco) what impediments a person may face. In clinical practice, an example might be the issue of self-efficacy one confronts in remaining away from drinking, in which case the central issue might be "the extent to which you can refrain from a certain behavior". Similarly, there may be self-efficacy variations involved in whether one can stick to an exercise routine. He repeated his point: we need context. Bandura looks at situations which entail "scaling efficacy in terms of the ability to refrain from a behavior given conditions which make it difficult to do that." Bandura mentioned his use of efficacy scales and that on his website there is a guide to developing such scales.

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Bandura has now posted ALL of his papers, from 1953 to present, on his website: www.albertbandura.org

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Bandura was asked, how has the notion of "self-efficacy" been misrepresented? "Self esteem is NOT the same as self-efficacy," said Bandura. "Self-esteem is a sense of self-worth. I have zero efficacy in ballroom dancing but this doesn't affect my sense of self-esteem in the least."

Audience questions:

QU: On coping, specifically after a traumatic event. What do we know about differentiating who will develop PTSD and who will not? [This is a question currently being researched by several people, and highlighted in several recent APA articles and in some of the presentations yesterday and today.]

A: Bandura mentioned research which involved a meta-analysis of numerous studies in this area and which concluded that about 80% of trauma survivors do recover: "a tremendous testimony to human resilience". He believes that "perceived efficacy that you can recover your life after the event is the best predictor" of being able to do so.

QU- Looking at all the celebrity scandals, in sports & entertainment, what do you make of this?

A: Bandura referred to the behavior of Michael Vick and "Fighting Gods", noting that "we are now experiencing an epidemic of moral disengagement [the topic about which he spoke later in the afternoon]. We have all our CEO's transgressing in ways that profoundly affect the lives of people who are retiring, and so on." For now, a few go to jail for a short time - Martha Stewart for example - and then get out and write their books: "Atonement now brings rewards rather than punishment". One wonders what will happen within the NFL and NBA, and the message that will be sent.

QU- On "collective efficacy in children": How does it lag behind (individual) self efficacy?

A: "Efficacy is embedded in the theory of agency." Usually the focus is on *individual* factors, but here we have a group, and one issue becomes "can we influence somebody else to get us what we want - relying on proxies? Theories of collective efficacy have been slow in coming but there is work being done now. Stajkovic now has a meta-analysis linked to the theory that the dynamic grows where there is a lot of interdependence - like team sports." In Rome, Bandura looked at "dyadic efficacy" within families, how a child impacts the parent and vice versa, how the spouses interact and impact child and each other, etc. "On the Internet I have a paper on collective efficacy" and the last chapter in his new book is "devoted entirely to this".

QU- What was the "accident" which Dr. Suinn referred to in his introduction, which led to Bandura becoming a psychologist?

A: "We often think about transformational events bringing about an epiphany in our lives, but I think the opposite: Most of our big decisions are based on trivial factors." In his case he was playing golf one day, waiting for his start time and playing behind 2 women who were moving slowly while he was speeding up. Result: "I met my wife in the sand trap."

Meanwhile, in college he was required to take 2 sports activities. After having "almost died" from running around a field, he decided it would be best to take archery. Then he looked for an indoor sport but again found it too onerous to climb ropes and engage in other strenuous activities, so he opted for golf, and "the rest is history" since that's how he met his future wife. "Psychology cannot explain the occurrence of these events. We can exercise some measure of control over fortuity," such as having an active life and going many places, so as to maximize the possibility of meetings and events. He quoted Pasteur: "Chance favors only the prepared mind". But he also acknowledged Groucho Marx's adage (paraphrasing) that you've got to be in the right place at the right time, but when you are, you'd better have something on the ball".

QU - And the "accidental" study of psychology?

A: Bandura found himself with an academic load which began with an ungodly-early course and there was a gap in his schedule which he wanted to fill. He saw "Intro to Psychology" at the perfect time and thought "gee", ok. And so "I took it and found my calling."

QU - Of what are you most proud?

A: The NEXT book! [He doesn't dwell on the past.] I'm trying to describe the psychology of human agency." He is taking a "bottom up" neural network view: "If our behavior is determined by our neural networks, why should people be held accountable? 'My neural network made me do it!' " (Imagine this as a court defense!) Some may say, he knows, "We can't initiate it but we can control it cognitively. Others respond that the control is controlled by the neural network" and so again we have this chicken-egg argument or dilemma.

Another thing he is excited about, looking forward, is finishing a paper on "moral disengagement as an impediment to environmental sustainability". Returning to his point that he is most excited, or 'proud' of future endeavors, he explained that "if you just write what you know, that becomes a dull exercise. Often, with research and writing, it's a process of self-exploration."

QU- from Dr. Suinn: When you first arrived at Stanford, reportedly you were very intimidated by all the giants, larger than life figures. What is your coping mechanism?

A: "Don't let them wear you down! You have to have tremendous resilience." In his case he began with a one year, non-tenured appointment and had to fight for such things as a parking permit. He did flirt with leaving for another position but was courted, and in conjunction with 'risk taking and resilience' he ended up with a 3-year tenured contract.

Related to this, Bandura noted that studies of people who become successful innovators identify 2 common factors: 1) An "unshakeable belief in self-efficacy"; and 2) A "tremendous belief in the worth of what they they're doing."

QU- What were some of the sources of your own sense of self-efficacy, and how might this have impacted your theory?

A: "I grew up in a small town", with one school and only several hundred residents. By necessity he engaged in a great deal of "self-directed learning" which was not "theoretical" but oriented towards survival and coping. Meanwhile his parents encouraged him to spread his wings and see the world beyond this environment, on school breaks. Once at UBC he took on a heavy course load AND worked in a ladder company in the afternoons. He got his degree in 3 years, and figured he should then get a Ph.D. in another 2, going from high school to doctorate in 5 years. Aside from academic immersion, during one break Bandura went to the wilderness area of the Yukon where he was very impressed how "their resilience and survival were at a premium". The population included "people escaping parole officers" and alimony payments, etc - "rough characters" in the wilderness. There was even one occasion where the local mash still was invaded by 6 grizzly bears, with the result of 6 tipsy grizzlies and yet another eye-opening experience.

As time ran out, Dr. Suinn mentioned a bit more personal information about Bandura, including his being a wine connoisseur. On his birthday he was given a surprise party at a vineyard where he was presented with a bottle of wine with a vintage year matching each one of his papers, so the older papers earned him some very rare wines. There was a video of the surprise party, to end this session, as family and students and friends celebrated his birthday by singing a parody of the Beatles' "Yesterday" which began with the line, "Yesterday, I thought helplessness was here to stay...". And at the end, Bandura was simply mobbed by admirers seeking autographs and photos. He was warm, gracious, and humble, a legend for good reason and fascinating to listen to in this relatively unstructured discussion format. Albert Bandura, still going strong.

 
Marsha Linehan, on treating high-risk suicidal patients

[Marsha Linehan]

[ http://faculty.washington.edu/linehan/ ]

Dr. Linehan, known for her developing the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) approach, prefaced her talk by saying this was not going to be about DBT treatment techniques but rather a presentation oriented towards the general question of treating suicidal patients.

She presented a number of statistics which, like the NIH figures I have seen and shared on my own site, underscore how suicide is a leading cause of death in the US - #11 overall, and at a shockingly high level during adolescence in particular.

What do we hear and what do we actually know about predicting or preventing suicide? We do hear, and it is borne out that "suicide attempts are the best predictors of suicide".

"If you get nothing out of this", Dr. Linehan said, "Know that the best predictor is a history of attempted self injury behavior. It's in their repertoire". She offered a number of studies and suggested looking further at her bibliography of studies, online. She mentioned studies which focused on diagnostic category (e.g., schizophrenia) as well as addictive disorders, a major risk factor. Among suicides, 40-65% have personality disorders as a diagnosis (Linehan et al, 2000). By far the biggest number is those with borderline personal disorder (BPD), and among adolescents in particular. One conclusion is that "multiple disorders carry the highest risk". Linehan emphasized the need to know the facts about suicide, especially given how as mental health professionals we are "unlikely to be able to avoid it".

While we have a system where the "standard of care" is generally to refer for psychiatric assessment and/or hospitalization, research suggests that (1) there is no empirical basis whatsoever, as what is in need of support is behavior, not a disease; and (2) the only person helped by this approach is the outpatient therapist who doesn't know what to do and/or fears accountability/litigation.

Linehan stated repeatedly and emphatically, "There's NO evidence that putting a person in a hospital prolongs life for even 5 minutes. None." So why is there so little advocacy for research and effective treatment regimens? She sees "a retreat from science based treatment" in this important area.

Aside from hospitalization, or the wisdom of psychiatric rather than psychological assessment, the issue of medication has become huge, with "The Anti-depressant Medication Controversy". Why a controversy? Because there is little data to support the value of medication in preventing suicide. (In fact some studies suggest an increase in some populations!) One study found "no difference between medicated and control groups" (the med here being Prozac).
[I have seen/heard anecdotal and research reports about how giving lethargic depressed people medication which arouses and activates them has the potential of increasing the likelihood of making the effort and "successfully suiciding".]

A huge collection of FDA data was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, and it is provocative in its lack of support for efficacy. In the UK one study found evidence that the use of anti-depressants *increased* suicide.

There are methodological and ethical problems with suicide research (e.g., who gets rejected from studies: typically pregnant women, substance abusers, and suicidal people - with 2 of 3 here being the primary target groups for high risk). One very well-executed study was the Columbia Case Control Study, with a matched sample, and large sample. Result: As many people on antidepressants killed themselves as did people off of medication.

It is often said that "if you treat the disorder the suicide risk will go down". Is this true? "We don't know!" She proposes a new model of care: "Suicide behavior is a disordered behavior: Treat the behavior". What is it about medication which treats behavior? Yet American Psychiatric Association convention posters prominently declare that xyz drugs are "FDA approved for treatment of suicidal patients". (Meaning what? They don't cause suicide?)

Linehan reiterated that we do have, and know we have, effective treatments, such as DBT. (Both she and Beck described the value, btw, of having "caring" letters as one helpful strategy, in addition to therapy.) Only DBT has been consistently replicated, according to Linehan. And she believes that "we as psychologists are the ones who can do it". She encouraged reading Brown's work: "Read it!" Again she reiterated, "There is no evidence inpatient treatment is good for anyone except the outpatient therapist". But rather than feeling helpless to do anything, the best approach would seem to be: "Learn evidence-based treatments! And use them. Some are simple." One technique - similar to Beck's use of 'friendly letters" - is the sending of 'caring postcards'. These are generated by computer, and this is known, but they contain a tiny picture of a dog and are signed by an attending, by hand. One study found 50% less suicide attempts among the group that regularly received these cards.

"If you get anything out of this talk," Linehan concluded, "think about how you could institute some system of outreach".

Finally, I attended a presentation by APA President Sharon Brehm, entitled:
 

"Looking Ahead: The Future of APA and Psychology"

[Sharon Brehm]

Dr. Brehm shared her impression of how APA functions, from her perspective "very typical of organizations" in having paid employees, a Board, and direct involvement of members. She referred to the bylaws which specify the objective (in bylaw 1.1) "to advance psychology as a science and profession" while also serving the public welfare. She is comfortable with how APA has 4 distinct directorates: education, practice, public interest, and science, though she also has some concerns about the organization not becoming a "4-pronged organization" which fosters divisiveness. Some of the driving forces in mental health, such as neuro-science, are such that they demand interdisciplinary study, she believes. Even the way departments are becoming reorganized and renamed (e.g., moving from "Dept. of Psychology" to "Dept. of Psychological and Brain Sciences") reflects a trend towards biology and science. She would personally prefer "unified departments" with sub specialty areas, "but that's not the trend", for a variety of factors, including monetary. Meanwhile she recalled past battles for funding in such areas as sexual health, which got huge media attention but little support for funding.

Obviously APA "has an important role in advocating for psychological science", Dr. Brehm continued. "Our goal should be that the legislators in the future would not be tempted to interfere with the peer review process." At the same time, "clearly science and practice are joined at the hip; the best example: evidence-based treatments".

Brehm reiterated some of the basic tenets of how one prepares for a career in psychology: studying psychological science, obtaining licensure, and engaging in continuing education. Soon there will be advances in CE, and also looking forward, "we have only begun to scratch the surface in terms of the use of technology". One example of forward-looking consumer tools is the site, hospitalcompare.com, which can empower people to "shop" for quality hospital care. And "wouldn't it be nice if we automatically received relevant new research?"

Dr. Brehm addressed some of the other issues central to the larger field of psychology, including evidence-based policies and also cultural sensitivity to, and awareness of, the importance of such things as multi-culturalism and diversity of languages. A chart showed demographic trends, highlighting for example how in 1990 Hispanics comprised 9% of the US population while it is predicted that in 2050 this group will be 24.5%, almost a quarter of our population. We will be "truly a different country". Clearly we have several tasks before us, such as providing services in languages other than English. For its part, "APA is developing a significant Spanish-language presence on our web site". In retrospect, she feels "the US has never really been good with multiple languages".

Another focus besides cultural diversity needs to be Aging. ("I regret to inform you that I and even some of you are participating in this process!") Issues emerge such as "who takes care of the caretaker?" APA has established a Presidential task force on "Integrated Healthcare for Aging Population" which should be relevant to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964.

APA also has a task force on science and math education, seen as urgent given the report, TIMSS (Trends in International Math and Science Study). For example, among 4th graders, in science Singapore ranks #1, the US #6. Among 8th graders, in math, Singapore ranks #1, the US #15.

There are other disturbing trends in education, including with SAT scores. Interestingly (but not surprisingly to those of us in urban settings), with critical reading skills it has been found that family income is more significant than ethnicity in predicting success. With math, however, ethnicity IS relevant (Asians do best). Perhaps this is relevant to the way children are introduced to math at home, and reinforced?

"My own estimate is that we have about a decade to close the gap, or we will have lost the game", said Dr. Brehm.

A 3rd Presidential task force is "institutional", while several more (non-Presidential) task forces focus on such areas as sexual orientation, supporting the mental health needs among the US military and their families, developing taxonomies, and working with licensing boards.

Another concern is the trend in internships. This year, of 3430 internship applicants, 34% got their first choice. Twenty-five percent did not obtain a match. "The supply: demand ratio is getting worse."

There is also the issue of "competition in the workplace" (e.g., social work, psychiatry). Brehm feels the solution is "to develop a strong 'brand', as specialist" or as oneself.

And there are issues of prescription privileges. Where psychologists are prescribing are typically places where there is a lack of psychiatrists. There is strong support in some areas, but not enough. Hawaii passed a bill for RxP but it was vetoed by the governor and could not be over-ridden. On the other hand, many psychologists are wary and some believe "biology will trump psychology" to everyone's detriment. There is also a perception (based on actual experience) that the influx of marketing money can corrupt/impact treatment decisions.

Lastly, Dr. Brehm underscored the importance of "internationalizing psychology" (something also highlighted at the opening ceremony, with many international psychology leaders on hand). This is "one of the most important areas" to reinforce and grow. After all, Pavlov, Wundt, the European experimentalists... Psychology has roots in other nations and cultures. Yet "internationalization is a huge experiment; culture effects behavior and our understanding of behavior". Cross-cultural awareness and study are thus vital. In conclusion, Dr. Brehm underscored how "cross-cultural research is vital. It is possible - and necessary - to internationalize psychology, and prompt collaboration."

[Coincidentally, I've just come in from a dinner held by an International organization promoting mental health - online - www.ismho.org]

And now a few hours sleep.

Sunday's events include a symposium on evil, hate, and horror with Beck, Zimbardo and Farley- along with some time seeing the exhibits, and possibly another town hall meeting on the future of psychology (with President-elect Kazdin, CEO Anderson, and Dr. Brehm, and an invitation for the audience to join in and "brainstorm".

DISCLAIMER - I did my best to take literal notes and get quotes verbatim. I welcome corrections and will endeavor to correct/complete names and other information which may have been missed prior to editing and posting complete articles.

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Hi, and greetings from APA's 115th Convention

Asynchronously live from San Francisco

I am seeing and hearing a great deal of convergence these past few days, between cognitive and social psychology, as Zimbardo and Beck discussed their understanding of behavior and the nature of "evil" today. Another powerful event.

In keeping this brief for now, I'd like to mention two other big events (in my own experience) here today, one being a discussion between Aaron Beck, Phil Zimbardo, and Frank Farley on the nature of evil (with some mention of the power of the Internet btw, so I'll share that report with both general psych and "cyberpsych" lists too). The other event I attended was an open mic Town Hall Meeting with APA leaders, who fielded many questions ranging from (real and perceived) APA policy to why dues are so high, to why there are inconsistencies in taking public stances on issues ranging from torture to abortion.

Here now is a presentation which I thought might be relevant to the study of online behavior and relationships. The symposium was very much in keeping with my own idea of "psychology": namely the science of human experience - behavior, communication, cognition/perception and social interaction - though in the specific case of "cyberpsychology" research, there is an introduction of technology in facilitating or changing these basic processes. There is a body of research into some of the online phenomenon but much more is needed, particularly in controlled studies. The following presentation has implications for understanding human communication and social behavior, across several modalities, including Internet, phone, and video-assisted communication.

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INVITED ADDRESS: CHARACTERISTICS OF SOCIAL INTERACTION IN CYBERSPACE: THE INTERPERSONAL PROCESSES AFFECTED BY VARIATION IN THE MEDIUM
Gerald A Mendelsohn

Doesn't this sound like it will be focused exactly on where research needs to go? It sure sounded like an exact match with my own interest in "CyberPsychology" (and online communication challenges/opportunities generally). I was wondering if this would be related to the groundwork laid by John Suler, in describing both positive and negative online group dynamics and individual behavior. Indeed, the related work of Walther was cited (another pioneer in "CyberPsychology"), but the focus of this presentation was a series of controlled studies undertaken by Dr.Mendelsohn and his colleagues. The actual title of his PowerPoint was "The Medium and the Message: Effects of Medium on Social Interaction". This is something I've studied myself, so I tuned in with interest, but I should note that the *medium* as variable involved not only Internet, but other (real-time) modalities as well.

My own focus was email versus chat versus message board/blog/forum; this study looked at non-web-based mediums as well as the online chat mode and video conferencing, but not other web-based mediums.

The design was to look at perceptions among dyads, where the medium provided text-only (chat) versus video versus phone modalities, as well as f2f. Thus email and forums were not being studied, but OTOH this compared several modalities which all allowed real-time communication, thus allowing a more face-valid comparison.

There were 4 participants each paired one at a time with the other 3, so it would be dyad AB, CD, AD, and BC. There was only one instruction when the two were introduced: "become acquainted". Then after the "round robin" pairings, the entire group would meet. There was "no deception" in this. Each pair rated the other partner on dimensions of "talkative", "warm", "nervous", and "likeability". The results? The least "talkative" were those using the video as the medium. The most talkative pairs were those using phone and chat. Interestingly, f2f dyads were in the middle.

On the dimension of perceived 'nervousness' this view was "decidedly lowest with chat", by self-report as well as by rating of the other in the dyad. Another finding was that while people seemed and felt "comfortable" they did not necessarily prefer the modality. [My own preaching has been that we need to recognize and honor *individual* comfort and preference feelings. Bandura might agree with this! "Agency" and efficacy are likely involved here imho.]

The author strongly recommends a paper by Joanie Connell et al, Don't hang up on the phone yet [.pdf]. About the revolution anticipated in modern life post-telephone.

Next: Liking the other person based on communicating with a given medium - Males rated others more "warm" using the f2f modality. Females rated warmth lowest f2f. Go figure.

Dr. Mendelsohn acknowledged the likelihood of intervening variables - it's easy to imagine many! - such as people's comfort level (or lack thereof) with video. For some "it was difficult". Connell conjectured that there was an effect here reflecting how "women are taught in f2f situations to be self-contained; however when *not* f2f there is a freeing up". Does this explain the joy of cell phones? :-) (I do wonder if the study used cell or wired phones, or if it matters; I will never forget a presentation years back which speculated about "transference" issues being different using a wired versus cell phone.)

Moving on, Dr. Mendelsohn conducted a second study using Pennebaker's inventory and a content analysis of the interactions in a similar 4x4 dyadic study. (This one omitted the video modality.) The words spoken were rated as expressing positive emotion a large percentage of time, while swear words and sexual words were very low. Bear in mind - and this is the basis for the next study - subjects did not always know the gender of their partner in the first stage and were prevented from learning name or gender under the ground rules.

A first observation was of a dynamic which was called "disinhibition". Secondly, it was seen how it can be difficult to either be sarcastic or perceive sarcasm accurately, in text-only modes. This is of course consistent with what has been described over the years.

Joe Walther's work was cited, in the sense of highlighting how "what happens is we may maintain some set of goals and norms, but we find ways of adapting - for example changing the way are messages are framed" in the process of seeking accurate communication.

The next step in his inquiry was to look at the degree to which the other 3 of the quartet agree, or form a consensus as to the way the fourth behaved via a given modality. Where was the most consensus? Among those who met f2f. The feedback he got told him "I get more useful signals f2f". [Hmm, this is a known challenge in text-only communication. But I wonder if once there was a f2f meeting it perhaps wiped out the non-f2f perceptions which had been formed. ]

The least consensus was about communication conducted in chat mode.

Dr. Mendelsohn went on to say, "Cyberspace is a laboratory for identities. People can and do play around. And there's less nervousness!" He cited a study which looked at introversion/extroversion behavior and perception of others, and he cited a 3rd study and one by himself and Joanie Connell, all said to support the notion that 1) Role playing is easier online; 2) Introversion/extroversion is an ability trait; and 3) There is "dispositional leakage" which is difficult to explain but refers to how even when coached to act more introverted or extroverted in anonymous pairing, while the extrovert can feign introversion, the introvert seems to get tagged correctly even if trying to fool the other.

Mendelsohn looked at gender issues as well, seeing if people could be easily fooled by surefire strategies like talking "sports & cars" versus "shopping". (These factor-analyzed interest areas are what came out as the best indicators of gender when pairs were able to successfully identify the other's gender.)

I'm going to end now, must get to the next event here (in RT).

I found this a very good line of research, though I cannot say that I know the Sample Size and other details which are relevant. (Was it a single quartet or several?) I asked if these studies are online, but they are still being written up for publication. If I find any of the references I'll add them, along with links. This may still be in the pilot stage, but the design is good, the questions are based on sound social psychology phenomena, and the importance of basic research into communication accuracy and impact online - and on phone, on camera and even f2f - cannot be overstated.

Meanwhile, my DISCLAIMER: I take verbatim notes and screen images of charts and graphs, etc., doing my best to be accurate. I welcome corrections and will edit this "asynchronously live" transcript after the event ends. I will correct any errors of which I become aware ASAP.

Ciao for now, regards from San Francisco.

"Dr. Mike"

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Asynchronously live from APA - San Francisco
Report #6 - 19 Aug 2007

Today's meeting of giants in psychology/psychiatry was both historic, and powerful.
Another great "conversation" facilitated by Dr. Frank Farley.
 

EVIL, HATE, AND HORROR -
A Conversation with Aaron T. Beck, Philip G. Zimbardo, and Frank Farley


[Evil, Hate, & Horror]
L-R: Aaron Beck, Frank Farley, and Phil Zimbardo [Photo by Fenichel]

As the distinguished panel prepared to discuss one of the most pressing issues of our time, Zimbardo took off his jacket to reveal a drawing of Zimbardo-as-devil, to the delight of the audience. Dr. Farley mentioned Beck's recent book, Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence, and Zimbardo described his latest book project, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Of course, this has been an area of expertise for Zimbardo since the days of his "Prison Experiment", a study now entrenched in the annals of classic psychology experiments and one which launched all sorts of research in the field of social psychology and the study of aggression. Farley noted just how important this area is, now more than ever in this warring world, and wondered, "If psychology doesn't have a solution science in this area, who does?"

Beck began by observing that "horror, hate, and evil are the kind of words that get the gastric juices flowing. I much prefer to speak about behavior." That said, he noted the use of the word hate in his own recent book, but stated that he would refrain from using such inflammatory words in today's discussion. He went on to comment, "I think Phil and I complement each other very well because I focus on internal dynamics and he focuses on external factors." He believes we need to look at individual violence as well as organized, group violence. "I work with individuals", Beck said, "but I first became involved with violence when I was working with couples". He told the story of a woman who came in for treatment after her husband punched her in the mouth. The reason, it seemed, for the outburst was because she called someone else to help take out the trash, which husband had not done in some time. What the husband heard was: You're a no good slacker, not a real man, and he felt massively wronged and saw her as a witch. "She feels let down, he feels put down." She used to think of him as strong, reliable, etc., but now she sees him becoming "evil" and for him she's become a witch, "almost with a broomstick". The behavior erupted in response to these images they had of each other rather than a specific provocation (e.g., the garbage).

Beck went on to say that he does believe also in the phenomenon of group violence, though his own focus has been at the level of the individual.

Zimbardo agreed that he and Beck share some "common denominators" in their frameworks. Zimbardo shared a bit of his own background: "I grew up in the South Bronx. I was always wondering how people I thought were good people ended up in jail." At the same time he noticed that "if you grow up rich, everyone wants to take credit - it's in your character, your good Protestant background." And so on.

So in terms of inner dynamics versus external factors, Zimbardo sees a complementary relationship, as does Beck. He recalled the star football players circa the World War II era, when Army had the best football team in the country. The star was known as "Mr. Inside" for his scoring runs. "That's Beck", Zimbardo says, while he is more likely identified with another player known as "Mr. Outside". "Beck has been spending his life trying to understand internal processes [while] my argument is that psychology has erred in stopping there, with what individuals bring to a situation."

Zimbardo was an expert witness in hearings about the Abu Ghraib torture and humiliation of prisoners. He shared that in his access to documents he was amazed at how bad things actually were, even beyond what made it out into the news. He wants to understand the reasons for such "evil": "Who creates those situations in which good people do evil?" He concludes that often "it's the system", within a society whose medical/psychiatric focus is on the individual. "If we really want to understand evil", he continued, "we have to have a triadic analysis. What do the [protagonists] bring in? What is the *context*? [e.g., Columbine, Abu Ghraib]. Who created the structure and what do we need to do to change it?" We still live within a medical model, not necessarily acknowledging the contributions of psychology, including cognitive study. "It's all about what's inside a person's head. With the medical model when there is a problem you change the person. [The individual.] What we need is public health policy!"

How do we begin to change the systems which create the behaviors we want to change? "We have erred in focusing on individuals. When millions of people have the same problem, we have to ask: what's wrong with the system?" At Stanford Zimbardo would often hear about students' "alienation" and he was asked about this: What would happen if there were like 1000 students presenting at the clinic for treatment? His response was that if some feeling was so endemic, they should look to see what's going on in the dorms. Social groups are a vital factor, and part of the context. He pointedly asserted that "the kid [who mass-murdered so many students] at Virginia Tech, that shouldn't have happened. What did he say? 'I gave you warnings.' In the old days they'd just suck it up [if angry and alienated]. Today they have guns."

Related to this, Beck described a study of violence in the South where he observed "there are subcultures which in fact *encourage* violence in response to things like being disrespected. [And] messages instigate violence, like propaganda, Hitler for example. In the South there's a particular rule: If a man is disrespected in some way, the offender must be punished. This rule was *encouraged* by the church." Often too, parents encourage children to fight back, "or in the future you'll be vulnerable to further attack". And so violent response may be on a hair trigger.

Dr. Farley commented: "My biggest concern is: what are we going to do about this? We've had horror and evil for 1000's of years. We're very good with theory. Are we actually making the world a better place? Are we humanizing the world? Twenty-five percent of the world's prisoners are in US prisons, not only for harming others but for putting things in their own bodies."

Farley gave advance "heads up" that he will be on 20/20 in Sept/Oct as part of a segment exploring violence on YouTube and the Internet. He's observed the apparent "thrill value" of watching violent acts, for example a video of a group of teens bludgeoning someone to death, and being thrilled by it. "Rob a 7-11 [food store]? The money in the till is only a small part of it." [The rest is the thrill.]

With regards to engaging in terrorism, Farley has observed that "what gets them in the door in some cases may be this thrill factor. It's exciting. In America they may do extreme sports for release but in some places it might be terrorism."

Zimbardo asked, "Why are we fascinated with evil?" and proceeded to speak about its nature:

"Evil is the exercise of power to intentionally harm people psychologically, or to hurt or kill..." One can hardly imagine the sense of power in taking a plane and destroying the WTC and killing 3000 people. But "once it's imaginable you know you can do it." He said he's not thinking in terms of "copycat" crimes, though that can be a factor. "It's the exercise of power." To this day, if you show a snippet of Hitler giving a speech, people are spellbound; "people are fascinated by his destruction of millions of Jews and gypsies and others." There is also a fascination with dictators and their exercise of raw power. "It's captivating. As Kissinger said, 'there's an aphrodisiac of power'." How to counter-balance this age-old phenomenon of human nature? Zimbardo thinks the solution might be to introduce "competing heroes" - positive ones. [This conforms with some of the thoughts of Bandura, Seligman, and others who spoke about moral/behavioral issues and the need for positive *leadership*.]

Beck observed that on an individual level, "We internalize images, and may feel external stimuli [but] they do not in themselves create violence. There are several steps: 1) People feel vulnerable or defeated; 2) they want to do something to get rid of the negative image; 3) they have an impulse to act. But not always violently. There does seem to be a disinhibition now: 'It's OK to employ violence.'" During the Korean War, for a different perspective, research showed that "only 20% of foot soldiers actually fired their weapons at others. They did not feel like shooting others." So they were trained in shooting at targets which looked like the enemy, and the reticence to shoot became disinhibited. "Perhaps", he speculated, "we could work to *fortify* the inhibitions". Meanwhile in some places, like Korea, violence is a complete taboo, as is even making derogatory statements about others.

Zimbardo picked up on this stream, commenting that "war is the disinhibiting of violence. It is also a way of saying that our system engages in killing people as a means of dealing with conflict. After wars, by the way, homicide rates go up."

The question has been posed, "Why do Palestinians become suicidal bombers?" In essence, "it's the perfect combination of person, situation, and system." Fuel is added to the hatred level with a lot of emotion and sloganeering ("Kill the Jews!" etc.) In homes the conversations are about a sense of injustice. Do they really want to kill? One reason they follow through is their system, where future martyrs are given training and then prepare a video, where they are wearing a headband declaring "I am a martyr". The video is sent to the home and the martyr pictures posted on the streets. The family is given a tidy sum (around $20,000 is the current rate) and all celebrate the imminent trip to join Allah and reap the awards of martyrdom. Zimbardo made the point that "nobody commits suicide bombing as an individual act". It's all systemic. The future martyrs are told not to worry, they won't feel anything and before a drop of blood is spilled they'll be in heaven. So there's a system and a "cover story". Again, one needs to consider what an individual brings to the situation AND what is the system.

Farley commented that Marshall McLuhan spoke presciently a decade ago, about a global village. Now there is disinhibition on a large scale AND there is Internet. "The Internet is an incredible means of letting it all hang out. And Reality TV: Degradation and humiliation!" Now what's good about all this? Nothing. "I fully expect snuff films to appear on YouTube. And HOW DO YOU STOP THIS? Anyone with sick, twisted ideas now has a mechanism to get their ideas out there."

The discussion was opened up to include the audience now:

QU - 13% of people in Palestine dream of being suicide bombers. What about the other 87%?
A- [Zimbardo] You are obviously part of the Seligman, positive psychology movement! What is best about human nature... we need a paradigm shift to get there.

QU- With regard to power. Is it all bad?
A- There's Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela - power can do good. Bill Gates now uses the power of his money to vaccinate children of the world.

A- "We need 'ordinary heroes'. There should be 'heroes of the week'! Most heroic acts are acts by ordinary people." Some tenets of heroism: 1) You take action while others are passive; you ignore your mother's advice and get involved. 2) You take action on behalf of *others*, being sociocentric, not egocentric. I'm not speaking of altruism; I'm talking about an action. The way to address evil is to implant this heroic imagination in children. Teach them that they can do good! We can begin to inoculate our children against evil by promoting good."

Farley: "And who are the #1 heroes according to research? Parents. And teachers. We need to use their power." He, like Seligman, spoke as to positive directions we might go, using education and leadership, and modeling "heroes".

QU (psychology student/attorney) - What can we do to model (positive) risk taking behavior [when for example] we have one of the Attorney Generals fired for refusing to follow an order to not prosecute someone [believed to be violating the law - for political reasons]?

Zimbardo noted that a big obstacle is endemic in huge institutions: "Institutions resist change! The most interesting thing about psychology is we study behavior *change*. But APA is an institution, it relies on funding, etc. It's hard to change an institution [which is] why we are resisting going to the next level in the [international] efforts at fighting torture."

And then there are appearances. "Suppose you had a task force on sexism with 9 men and 1 woman. Who makes the decision to make biased conclusions? How did a panel reach a conclusion consistent with the Bush agenda? [See his commentary about this on his web site.] We have a big military division [within APA], funding sources, etc., and we want to keep everyone in the fold."

Farley: "Both Phil and I are past APA Presidents [and we know]: As organizations are larger, we often squeeze out the risk-taking factor. Tomorrow morning, by the way, there is a meeting on reforming the APA with some radical proponents like Nick Cummings."

QU - Any reactions to Al Gore's book on the "Decline of Reason"?

A - Beck: "I haven't seen the book and can't address that but I'd like to address a question nobody has asked: How do you change the system? I consider myself a psychologist - although I only took one course in psychology. First, we can't be grandiose, thinking we can change the whole world. But we can use analysis and try to have some sort of impact, using conflict resolution theory for example. I think reason is moving to the front stage. [In Ireland] British politics have harmed all sides. It took Tony Blair, plus a separate, less visible process. First comes the behavioral change and then cognitive. Have people exposed to easy life. Now [in Ireland] they are working on conflict resolution skills, role playing, etc. Catholics and Protestants. At the top level - the role of psychologists if they have any influence at all, is to influence the top people."

A - Zimbardo: "Bandura, yesterday, described how Mexico is working with comic book and video makers, influencing behavior based on the notion of observational learning. Many people [there] live on soap operas. So they started building in little messages, like the importance of literacy, family planning, etc. This program is now being exported around the world, including Africa, where truck drivers are stopping and picking up prostitutes, and spreading AIDS. How do we bring a message to where people go? [That's the question, and in answering it there has been some impact.] They're changing literacy rates, family planning... You start at the level of the individual but then provide pro-social messages in a venue where people voluntarily submit themselves to propaganda."

QU- Beck mentioned destructive violence. Is there "creative violence"? Zimbardo, you mentioned Bandura and his notion of moral disengagement. Yet people commit horrific acts premised on moral ENGAGEMENT - their version. And what about kids who see suicide bombers as heroes? And Gore's notion that reason is on the decline?

A- Beck: "Here's my 2 cents. I'm puzzled by the question about "creative violence". Are there times when violence is justified? I imagine, when you've been attacked. And some religionists believe in "justifiable war", while some feel war is never justified." Beck said he would personally advocate for "creative NON violence", as did Ghandi.

A- Zimbardo shared that he did not enjoy his work with the military, since "as awful as we saw in the pictures at Abu Ghraib, the military is doing all sorts of horrendous things" such as raping a young girl and murdering the whole family, and burning down the house. "These are reservists, not trained soldiers" and their credo was basically simply to "soften them up for interrogation". At no time were they instructed to "do no harm". The sentences handed down were light to none, despite obvious instances of premeditated murder (which got changed as to "negligent homicide"). Again we have the issue of what a system will bear. "The system says, 'we want to keep the morale of soldiers up. If we send them all to jail for murder and rape, it won't be good for morale.' In the same way, one might wonder, 'Why don't we just sign on to a moratorium?' Because in the system there are so many competing interests."

Farley: "War is Hell. So how do we stop it? How do we humanize the world so in 1000 years we're not still discussing the horrors of war?"

QU- What about the language being used in the debates over immigration policy? Some would argue for functioning not from a position of hate, but a position of preserving the good. Those in power think they're doing good.

A- Zimbardo: "Right. They are defending the nation, the religion... [But] if this is the Lord's work we're really in trouble! The human mind is incredible in its ability to justify any means to an end. Skillful leaders know how to choose the right slogan to justify the need for war. Nobody does bad, it's all good. It gets down to semantics, like Orwell's 1984".

A- Beck: "There's a common denominator. We're all seeing this type of phenomenon in our work with patients. In working with couples it's always the case that one sees the other as victimizer and themselves as the victim. That's essentially human nature. Caesar talked about how the poor soldiers had been victimized. Same with the Nazis; they portrayed themselves as the victims."

A- Zimbardo: Why are we in Iraq? Because after 9/11 the Bush administration realized that in order to maintain power they need for the first time in history to make us feel that we've been victimized. War on terror? Is that like war on poverty? How do we justify going into a country which has not attacked us? WMD, and all that? It was to promote fear and make us feel victimized. Lies! The goal before the last election was to raise the fear level, using a tape about a planned attack which was actually made before 9/11! Congress bought it. The public bought it - 70%. As a rule there are no evil people, only evil deeds - with this little asterisked footnote: See Dick Cheney for the exception. [Much applause and laughter]

QU- How would you explain the increase in negative portrayals of Muslims? What can we do to change this negative imaging?

A- Beck: "Good question. Our population is feeling vulnerable, like after Pearl Harbor. They wanted to eliminate a 5th column and anyone resembling the enemy became suspicious. Sort of like a smoke alarm. It may go off in error, but we pay attention to them. What's the answer? A few good people need to speak up, and a few brave people need to go public."

A- Zimbardo: "Detention camps! In World War 2 the sons of Japanese were soldiers, heroes! And they came home to visit their families and found them in the 'camps'! Now it's 'all Muslims' and 'all yellow races'... and it becomes 'all people who are different.' Anyone who is not me, anyone who looks different. And these are the sources of fear and prejudice."

[Beck bid farewell 15 minutes from the end as he needed to get to an event where he was to be given an award for lifetime achievement. He received a standing ovation and was embraced by Zimbardo.]

QU- Re Ghandi. Big gestures get seen, but how do we focus on the little changes which need to be made?

A- Zimbardo: "Yes, Ghandi. And Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. You need individual leaders. In fact you need 3 people at least to follow a leader in order to become effective. .... The system will tend to alienate people from 'the troublemaker', as we saw in the Prison experiment: the guards organized the *prisoners* against other prisoners, the 'troublemakers'. Divide and conquer. If the troublemakers persisted then nobody would get any food."

QU - Dr. Ellis had his approach, and there was 'unconditional regard'... What would be effective in modeling positive directions?

A- Zimbardo: "Yes, how do we model altruism, compassion? 'Heroism' goes one step further. To me the key is that to be a hero you need to take *action*. And there is inhibition. People just use words. Look at Bush and 'compassionate conservatism' - as compassionate as a boa constrictor!"

QU - follow-up - Not everyone will take action. And there are contrasts between others and say, Bush.

A- Farley: "Yes, like the new Prime Minister of Great Britain, Gordon Brown, a Ph.D. who has written two books." The first - "Courage" - uses Farley's research on heroism as part of the narrative.

QU- When I was young I played cops and robbers, played with plastic guns and so forth. Is this play a good 'outlet" or a precursor to violence?

A- Zimbardo, referring in part to more recent trends in "play" with realistic shooting/maiming "games": "The purpose of some games is to blow people apart. It produces, at the least, a 'psychic numbing'. It's almost a sexual thing with guys. In the Army they are using video games as training modules. What Tim [Beck] said about Korea, about soldiers not shooting - this has changed. It's not true any more. People are comfortable shooting guns. It just lowers general revulsion against killing, against blowing someone apart."

Farley: "And young people today are literally living inside the media, living on the Internet... Look at Tim Beck - 86 years old and he has an avatar and is active on 2nd Life! "

"In some people, [the overall exposure to passive and interactive violence] *desensitizes*, in others it brings fear, and 3rdly - this is scary - it also gives people ideas.... You've got to stop the horror! And if anyone can do it, it's got to be us."

QU about decision-making as to the directions of social activism.

Zimbardo: "I am a social change activist. I have always sought to promote positive change. It's incumbent upon us. It's a *privilege* to be able to see these issues and play a role. We have to always work for humanity."

--

And on that note, I am packing up the notes and computer for now and soon working my way towards sleep and home, not necessarily in that order.

I will add some of the links speakers referred to as I find them, and of course correct any errors I become aware of, immediately. I neither condone nor refute the presentations or personal opinions of others; I am merely sharing what was said and hopefully providing a sense of the very stimulating and informative discussions.

DISCLAIMER: To the best of my knowledge my notes are verbatim and accurate, but should any errors be brought to my attention I would be grateful and quickly make appropriate corrections.

I hope you enjoyed this sampling, and as always, I welcome thoughts, comments, corrections.

Regards from San Francisco and the final hours of the 2007 APA Convention.

--


Michael Fenichel, Ph.D.
http:/www.psychservices.com



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INDEX OF 2001 APA Convention Articles:
Behavioral Telehealth | E-biz of Mental Health | 2001: A Cyberspace Odyssey

INDEX OF 2002 APA Convention Articles:
CyberSex & Cyber-Infidelity | Beck & Ellis 2002 | Behavior Therapy | CyberPsychology | E-Ethics

2003 Convention Highlights: Full Text | Beck 2003 | Quality of Online Health Info | Sternberg's Vision

2005 Convention Highlights:   Opening Session | Pioneers of Behavior Therapy
Distinguished Elders of Psychotherapy | Legends Discuss Psychology | Online Clinical Work | Town Hall Meeting

2006 Convention Highlights:
Opening | Online Psychotherapy & Research | Psychological Vital Signs | Advances in Cognitive Therapy
Brok on Chaplin | Conversation with Aaron T. Beck - 2006 | Dr.Phil | 21st Century Ethics | Media: Town Hall '06

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