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Jean Mercer - Child Development: Myths and Misunderstandings
Posted: 14 June 2011 11:41 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Host: Karen Stollznow

This week’s guest is Jean Mercer, a Developmental Psychologist and Professor Emerita at Richard Stockton College. She is the author of the new book Child Development: Myths and Misunderstandings.

Jean writes the blog “Child Myths”, and along with Penn Jillette and Richard Dawkins, she is a co-author of Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion. Jean is also a contributor and Consulting Editor to the Center for Inquiry’s journal, the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice.

In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Jean talks about the developing field of developmental psychology. Jean jokes that “studying child development isn’t rocket science…it’s a lot more complicated than that!” This is an area that is fraught with myths, mistakes and misconceptions; Jean explains how these develop and the often serious repercussions.

Jean discusses the importance of critical thinking about child development. Pseudoscientific therapies often have the semblance of science, so what information can we trust? Jean talks about the emphasis on evidence-based practice in developmental psychology, and why we have to think critically about that too.

http://www.pointofinquiry.org/jean_mercer_child_development_myths_and_misunderstandings/

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Posted: 15 June 2011 04:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I was hoping she would actually go over some myths and misunderstandings, but she barely went over any. She was more focused on why myths and misunderstandings happen, and critical thinking, which is good and all, but not what I was expecting!

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“What people do is they confuse cynicism with skepticism. Cynicism is ‘you can’t change anything, everything sucks, there’s no point to anything.’ Skepticism is, ‘well, I’m not so sure.’” -Bill Nye

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Posted: 15 June 2011 10:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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byenzer - 15 June 2011 06:53 PM

You lost most of any listening audience when the subject hovered and hovered over EVERYTHING BUT the negative effects of religion upon child development.

That’s probably because there aren’t any negative religion effects on child development.

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Posted: 16 June 2011 07:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Dawkins is wrong and he should know better by now as he was explicitly told by the psychologist Steven Pinker while discussing this topic that parents have no influence on the behaviour and the personality of their children—if I find the link I’ll post it later. According to twin and adoption studies parents do have a big influence on the religious label of their kids but the the long-term parental effect on their kids’ religiosity (i.e., church attendance, religious discussion, observance of religious holidays, religious moralizing, etc.) is almost nonexistent.

And FWIW, no, I am not religious. Dawkins is one of my heroes but he’s simply wrong on this one.

[ Edited: 16 June 2011 07:16 AM by George ]
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Posted: 16 June 2011 07:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The fact that Dawkins has defined religious indoctrination as a type of child abuse doesn’t make it equivalent to horribly common forms of physical abuse and neglect, some of them— like genital cutting— based on myths and misunderstandings about development. In my opinion, religious beliefs and teachings (while all erroneous world-views) do not have a universal effect on children. I’m much more concerned with the fundamentalist beliefs that advocate whipping infants with plumbing supply line when they cry or disobey than with instruction on the 39 Articles. Why fight about catechism lessons when there are children who die of starvation as their fundamentalist or cult-bound parents attempt to “break their spirits” and ‘save their souls”?

My position, based in part on growing up in a freethinking family, is that it’s more important to encourage critical thinking about the development of human beings than it is to turn every discussion to a battle against theism.

I’m reminded of the apocryphal story about the Victorian advertisement for a private chaplain, which included the proviso: “Believer not objected to.” Organized religion may or may not have a powerful influence on other aspects of thinking, like beliefs about children. Except for parents committed to the Calvinist/fundamentalist view typical of certain dissenting groups, I doubt (pace Dawkins) that religious belief has much direct influence on parental behavior.

Jean Mercer

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Posted: 17 June 2011 02:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I really welcome talks which don’t focus on the “anti-religion mantra” for a change. It’s been done to death. I’m an atheist and in complete agreement with the common anti-religious arguments, but there’s only so long you can talk the same thing through over and over. Bring on some science, bring on some philosophy, bring on the varied debates. I guess the hunger for anti-religious talk doesn’t permeate the audience afterall. My guess is there are some who want more (probably more common among American audience members, as the issue is so big there) and some who want other discussions, so variety is the key.

[ Edited: 17 June 2011 02:49 AM by fingermouse ]
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Posted: 17 June 2011 08:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Anyway, I thought this was the Center for Inquiry, not the Church of the Gospel According to St. Richard and/or St. Steven. I find it disturbing when people argue that “Dawkins says” rather than referring to relevant facts. Can it be that skepticism for some people means believing implicitly in a different set of dogmas from the religious ones? How is that different from religious indoctrination? I would say, with Hume, consign that kind of thinking to the flames.

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Posted: 17 June 2011 09:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Jean Mercer - 17 June 2011 08:36 AM

Anyway, I thought this was the Center for Inquiry, not the Church of the Gospel According to St. Richard and/or St. Steven. I find it disturbing when people argue that “Dawkins says” rather than referring to relevant facts. Can it be that skepticism for some people means believing implicitly in a different set of dogmas from the religious ones? How is that different from religious indoctrination? I would say, with Hume, consign that kind of thinking to the flames.

ROFL

Welcome to the atheist dogma.  The dogma of FREE THINKERS.  LOL

Have you paid any attention to Transactional Analysis or read The Games People Play by Berne?

Sometimes I think people in the field of psychology don’t really want to apply what has been learned about psychology. 

psik

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Posted: 17 June 2011 10:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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psikeyhackr—Are you thinking that Transactional Analysis is part of “what has been learned about psychology”? It involved an interesting set of metaphors about interpersonal communication, but regrettably it devolved into toleration of sado-masochistic practices. You might want to read Jacqui Schiff’s “All My Children” to see what belief system caused a death by scalding— this being one of the many reasons why that branch of TA went abroad to countries that didn’t watch too closely what was done to people.

TA isn’t even mentioned in Norcross’s recent edition of “History of Psychotherapy”. It wasn’t evidence-based in any case.

But is what you really mean, that psychologists should use principles of persuasion to convince people? We only do that when we put our white coats on (bwa ha ha ha!).

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Posted: 17 June 2011 10:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Jean Mercer - 17 June 2011 10:34 AM

You might want to read Jacqui Schiff’s “All My Children” to see what belief system caused a death by scalding— this being one of the many reasons why that branch of TA went abroad to countries that didn’t watch too closely what was done to people.

Ahh, St. Jacqui. I see…  grin

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Posted: 17 June 2011 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Hardly— she’s the one who caused the scalding.

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Posted: 17 June 2011 10:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Jean Mercer - 17 June 2011 10:34 AM

psikeyhackr—Are you thinking that Transactional Analysis is part of “what has been learned about psychology”? It involved an interesting set of metaphors about interpersonal communication, but regrettably it devolved into toleration of sado-masochistic practices. You might want to read Jacqui Schiff’s “All My Children” to see what belief system caused a death by scalding— this being one of the many reasons why that branch of TA went abroad to countries that didn’t watch too closely what was done to people.

TA isn’t even mentioned in Norcross’s recent edition of “History of Psychotherapy”. It wasn’t evidence-based in any case.

But is what you really mean, that psychologists should use principles of persuasion to convince people? We only do that when we put our white coats on (bwa ha ha ha!).

Well the only two reviews are certainly interesting.

http://www.amazon.com/All-Children-Jacqui-Lee-Schiff/dp/0515054224/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1308332679&sr=1-1

The reviews of The Games People Play do not seem to match well with what you say.

http://www.amazon.com/Games-People-Play-Transactional-Analysis/dp/0345410033/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1308332817&sr=1-1

I have discussed the book and method with a psychiatrist before.  He gave me the impression it did not serve the economic interests of psychiatrists to well.  It may be somewhat difficult to get evidence for the effect of increasing people’s understanding versus manipulating them.  Pavlovian techniques are easier to measure but require people to be dumb enough to fall for it.

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Posted: 17 June 2011 11:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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No type of talking therapy serves psychiatrists’ economic interests, because they can prescribe medications, have that service well-reimbursed, and quickly have the patient feel different if not better.

As for the reviews, are you under the impression that Kurt Vonnegut knew anything about modern psychology and psychotherapy (not the same things, necessarily)? This seems to me as likely as that Richard Dawkins knows much about child development.

Rather than tussle with me, why don’t you look up recent professional material about psychotherapy and see how much you see TA mentioned?

However, I don’t doubt that the average naive reader would very much like the TA books. This is congruent with what I called the “trailing edge theory” in my interview with Karen— that ideas that are long gone from the professional realm continue to appeal to the public, who recognize vaguely that they’ve heard of something before and therefore assume they understand it. I don’t mean to suggest that this is harmful, though, because anything that helps people apply cognitive skills to emotional problems is likely to give them a pleasurable feeling of mastery. (What’s more, they will probably start to feel a bit better not long after they feel their worst, even without any help.)

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Posted: 17 June 2011 07:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Kurt Vonnegut?

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Posted: 18 June 2011 04:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I promoted this interview on Somasimple.com where we commonly discuss the problems inherent to “evidence-based practice.” It’s in the “Range of Motion” blog.

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Posted: 18 June 2011 05:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Yes, there’s an Amazon quotation from him (K.V.) among the reviews of the Berne books.

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