Playing fast and loose with aggression and sex

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Men are much more aggressive than women, right? Studies say so. We just know this. Well, there may be truth to it (there is), but be discerning when you hear or read people say it. What exactly are they saying? Does all the evidence support it? Does the evidence support quite what they are saying, or does it support something similar but not the same?

When reading for an introductory psychology paper last year, I was struck by an example of how authors subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) encourage the reader to accept narratives that have become part of our social orthodoxy. In this case it’s a narrative about men being more aggressive than women. It’s subtle, but here’s what I observed. The textbook is by Lorelle Burton, Drew Westen, and Robin Kowalski. Only when writing this blog article did I look up information about these authors and realise that the first and last of them are women, and the second is a sometime contributor to the Huffington post and progressive advocate who served as an advisor to a Democratic election campaign in which he advised them to “for the most part, forget about issues, policies, even facts, and instead focus on feelings.” I add this lest anyone suspect that these factors contributed to my impression of what I read. For some reason, I had assumed that “Burton” was a man (possibly because the name sounds like “Bert!”). The book is Psychology, published by Wiley, and this is the fifth Australian and New Zealand edition. It is the assigned text for Social and Individual Psychology. Continue reading “Playing fast and loose with aggression and sex”

Mean religious kids?

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A few people have asked me what I think of the numerous news articles about a recent study purporting to show that religious children are less altruistic than non-religious children.

The Daily Beast sums up the findings with the headline “Study: Religious kids are jerks.” An article over at Groopspeak makes the audacious claim that “Major study shows that religious children are less moral than non-religious kids” Rhetoric like this is pretty difficult to justify in light of a closer look at the study (see below), but we live in a world where we automatically share the link to that story that says “Beer is good for you,” “Bacon isn’t so bad after all” or “Coffee wards off cancer.” We latch onto claims that the world is the way we would prefer it to be without so much as looking twice to see if it’s true. Continue reading “Mean religious kids?”