Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Have Americans become too fragile for their own good?

Beyond trigger warnings and safe spaces lies an entire population that espouses victimhood in all walks of life.

Jonathan Haidt: So, the second great untruth is "always trust your feelings"; the wisdom traditions of the entire world say "don't do that." For example, of some of the quotes we have in the book from Shakespeare, "There's nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so," from Marcus Aurelius, "The whole world is change, and life itself is but what you deem it," from Buddha, "Our thoughts are the creations of our minds; with our minds we make of the world." CBT is just a way of teaching people skills to do exactly that, to question their feelings, to look for evidence. So in CBT you learn the names of these distortions, about 15 or so distortions. You can guess what they mean: catastrophizing; black-and-white thinking; labeling; mind reading. These are the things that depressed and anxious people do a lot. One way to – all of us have had experience with these. One thing I like to think about is Homer Simpson saying, "Shut up, brain, or I'll stab you with a Q-tip!" Our brains do this. Our brains go on and on, and we're like stop it, stop it, stop it! Well, CBT is a way of stopping it. It's so easy to learn. Many people, including me, learned it from a wonderful book by David Burns called Feeling Good. In our book (and on our webpage if you go to Thecoddling.org) we have suggestions for books and apps where you can learn it. Cognitive behavioral therapy is not more effective than several other treatments, most treatments are about equally effective, but it's so easy to learn. If you teach, and I've done this in my classes, if you assign everyone in the class to learn CBT most people get it and get something out of it. Other techniques like meditation work, but they're harder. Most people drop off. So CBT is easy, really well tested, has a huge impact on a variety of mental illnesses, especially those related to depression and anxiety. We think every college student—and heck every high school student—should be taught these basic skills given how high the rates of anxiety and depression are today.

So for the last few years we've been hearing reports that counseling centers on campus are overwhelmed, we're hearing stories about rising depression and anxiety. Some people say oh it's nothing to be alarmed about. It's not real it's just that young people today they're so comfortable talking about mental illness they're more open about it and that's why the rates seem to be rising. It sounds plausible. Not true!

It's not just that young people are more comfortable. We know this because studies have been done looking at hospital admission data, who is being admitted to hospitals because they cut themselves, they took poison, they harmed themself in some other way, we see exactly the same curves. On that date in particular boys are not changing but girls are going way, way up, only teenage girls, not millennials, not kids born before 1995 but kids born in 1995 and after, the girls in particular, are cutting themselves and being admitted to hospitals in much higher rates. Most alarmingly the suicide rate, if you look at the last couple years compared to the first ten years of the century the suicide rate for American boys, teenage boys, is up 25 percent, which is a gigantic increase; the suicide rate for American girls is up to 70 percent. So something is going wrong. Something is affecting American teenagers, especially girls.

So, in the United States right now, as many people have noticed, we are seeing a huge escalation of our long running culture war; unfortunately universities are all right in the heart of that. The right loves to come in and say that universities are bastions of political correctness, they've lost their minds. The left is motivated to say no there's not a problem, there's nothing going on, it's just that the right hates ideas, they hate universities.

So, the way that this whole book started is that Greg Lukianoff, my co-author and friend, is prone to depression and he had a suicidal depression in 2007; he was hospitalized and he learned cognitive behavioral therapy as part of his treatment, and he credits it with saving his life. So he goes back to his job as the President for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, he's been fighting for free speech rights for students, pushing back against administrators who are always imposing speech limits. Students were always his best supporters. Students generally wanted the rights to speak and think and be independent until 2013.

Beginning in the fall of 2013 he started seeing the first cases of students saying "we want to protections from words, books, ideas, speakers. We want speakers disinvited, don't let this person onto our campus, not because it would be offensive, but because it will be dangerous. It will be harmful. It will be traumatizing. We want trigger warnings, if you're going to assign a book that has violence in it, especially sexual violence like a Greek myth, which has rape, if you're going to assign that you need to warn students against it so that they can choose whether they want to absent themselves on that day." So this was something new and at first it was just a strange thing at a few schools. And then over the following year it built to the point where in 2014 we started reading articles in the New Republic and the New York Times about to trigger warnings, safe spaces, micro aggression training, bias response teams, a whole set of constructs and procedures emerged on certain universities, not everywhere but especially at elite schools in the Northeast and on the West Coast a way of protecting students from words, books, ideas and speakers. Speakers were shouted down increasingly, not because they were offensive and hateful but because they were dangerous. For students to think about ideas in terms of right or wrong is great. Exciting versus boring is great. But safe versus dangerous? This is a terrible way to approach the intellectual world.

So Greg came to talk to me because what he saw was students doing the exact cognitive distortions that he had learned to stop doing when he was treated for cognitive behavioral therapy when he was treated for depression. Greg was concerned that if students are beginning to think this way about safety and danger and harmfulness that this is going to make them depressed and anxious. And that's what led us to write our original article in the Atlantic in 2015 titled The Coddling of the American Mind. We publish the article in 2015 before a big wave of student protests around Halloween of 2015 so these trends that we saw, that Greg and I both saw hints of in 2014, they exploded in the fall of 2015, they've spread much more widely in the couple years since then. And at the same time we're seeing rates of depression and anxiety increasing rapidly too. We're not saying these are causing that, we don't know, but there is a national wave of depression. Students are thinking in terms of safety and danger. Students say, by their own admission, they are more fragile; they use a language of fragility, weakness, trauma, triggering. They see triggers all over the world. What are triggers? Triggers are cases where you take a part of your nervous system and you say "if someone says that word they can control my nervous system and make me afraid and anxious." That's a terrible idea. We should not be teaching our kids to see the world as being full of triggers, we should teach them to live in a world that is physically quite safe but full of offensive statements and ideas, especially on the Internet.

A sad commentary on the state of the business world now is that Google is being sued from both sides, from women who say that they're victims of a hostile climate and from conservatives and white men who say that conservatives and white men are discriminated against. So in our current year everybody feels they're a victim. The truth is that diversity of perspectives is essential for healthy organizations, especially those who care about innovation. We have to address all of the diversity issues at the same time. We can't pit them against each other. We have to work on our speech climate; in the business world it's called speak up culture, in the academic world it's called just basic openness to ideas. We're having problems all across American society; we've got to work on them.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
Keep reading Show less

Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

Keep reading Show less

How often do vaccine trials hit paydirt?

Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.

Keep reading Show less
Quantcast