Tag Archives: knowledge/intelligence

How Do Physicians and Non-Physicians Want to Die?

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

A recent RadioLab podcast, titled The Bitter End, identified an interesting paradox. When you ask people how they’d like to die, most will say that they want to die quickly, painlessly, and peacefully… preferably in their sleep.

But, if you ask them whether they would want various types of interventions, were they on the cusp of death and already living a low-quality of life, they typically say “yes,” “yes,” and “can I have some more please.”  Blood transfusions, feeding tubes, invasive testing, chemotherapy, dialysis, ventilation, and chest pumping CPR. Most people say “yes.”

But not physicians.  Doctors, it turns out, overwhelmingly say “no.”  The graph below shows the answers that physicians give when asked if they would want various interventions at the bitter end.  The only intervention that doctors overwhelmingly want is pain medication.  In no other case do even 20% of the physicians say “yes.”

Screenshot_1

What explains the difference between physician and non-physician responses to these types of questions.  USC professor and family medicine doctor Ken Murray gives us a couple clues.

First, few non-physicians actually understand how terrible undergoing these interventions can be.  He discusses ventilation.  When a patient is put on a breathing machine, he explains, their own breathing rhythm will clash with the forced rhythm of the machine, creating the feeling that they can’t breath.  So they will uncontrollably fight the machine.  The only way to keep someone on a ventilator is to paralyze them. Literally.  They are fully conscious, but cannot move or communicate.  This is the kind of torture, Murray suggests, that we wouldn’t impose on a terrorist.  But that’s what it means to be put on a ventilator.

A second reason why physicians and non-physicians may offer such different answers has to do with the perceived effectiveness of these interventions.  Murray cites a study of medical dramas from the 1990s (E.R., Chicago Hope, etc.) that showed that 75% of the time, when CPR was initiated, it worked.  It’d be reasonable for the TV watching public to think that CPR brought people back from death to healthy lives a majority of the time.

In fact, CPR doesn’t work 75% of the time.  It works 8% of the time.  That’s the percentage of people who are subjected to CPR and are revived and live at least one month.  And those 8% don’t necessarily go back to healthy lives: 3% have good outcomes, 3% return but are in a near-vegetative state, and the other 2% are somewhere in between.  With those kinds of odds, you can see why physicians, who don’t have to rely on medical dramas for their information, might say “no.”

The paradox, then — the fact that people want to be actively saved if they are near or at the moment of death, but also want to die peacefully — seems to be rooted in a pretty profound medical illiteracy.  Ignorance is bliss, it seems, at least until the moment of truth. Physicians, not at all ignorant to the fraught nature of intervention, know that a peaceful death is often a willing one.

Cross-posted at Pacific StandardThe Huffington Post, and BlogHer.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Unsung Heroes of the Crash Landing in San Francisco

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

Like many people, I’ve been following news about the crash landing in San Francisco. It’s a frightening reminder of the risks that come with air travel, but an uplifting one thanks to the small number of casualties.  The Mayor of San Francisco was quoted saying: “We’re lucky we have this many survivors.”  And the Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department said that it was “nothing short of a miracle…”  At CNN, after mentioning the two confirmed fatalities, the reporter writes, “Somehow, 305 others survived.” Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, wrote that it was a “serious moment to give thanks.”  But to whom?

Screenshot_1

There’s a kind of person who is trained to maximize survival in the case of a plane crash: the flight attendant.  Airlines don’t advertise the intense training their flight attendants receive because it reminds potential passengers that air travel is risky.  As a result, most people seriously underestimate the skills flight attendants bring on board and the dedication they have to the safety of their passengers.

Flight attendants have to learn hundreds of regulations and know the safety features of all of the aircraft in their airline’s fleet. They must know how to evacuate the plane on land or sea within 90 seconds; fight fires 35,000 feet in the air; keep a heart attack or stroke victim alive; calm an anxious, aggressive, or mentally ill passenger; respond to hijackings and terrorist attacks; and ensure group survival in the jungle, sea, desert, or arctic.

It isn’t just book learning; they train in “live fire pits” and “ditching pools.”As one flight attendant once said:

I don’t think of myself as a sex symbol or a servant. I think of myself as somebody who knows how to open the door of a 747 in the dark, upside down and in the water (source).

This is why I’m surprised to see almost no discussion of the flight attendants’ role in this “miracle.” Consider the top five news stories on Google at the time I’m writing: CNNFoxCBS, the Chicago Tribune, and USA Today.  These articles use passive language to describe the evacuation: “slides had deployed”; all passengers “managed to get off.”  When the cabin crew are mentioned, they appear alongside and equivalent to the passengers: the crash forced “dozens of frightened passengers and crew to scamper from the heavily damaged aircraft”; “passengers and crew were being treated” at local hospitals.

Only one of these five stories, at Fox, acknowledges that the 16 cabin crew members worked through the crash and its aftermath.  The story mentions that, while passengers who could were fleeing the plane, crew remained behind to help people who were trapped, slashing seat belts with knives supplied by police officers on the ground.  The plane was going up in flames; they risked their lives to save others.

I don’t know what the flight attendants on this plane did or didn’t do to minimize injuries or save lives, but I would like to know.  Instead, they are invisible in these news stories as workers, allowing readers and future passengers to remain ignorant of the skills and dedication they bring to their work.

Cross-posted at JezebelPolicyMic, Huffington Post, and BlogHer.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Men Feel Bad Around Smart, Successful Women

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

 You know all those badass ladies out there that are inexplicably single? Well, maybe it’s not so inexplicable.

In a study contending for most-depressing-research-of-the-year, psychologists Kate Ratliff and Shigehiro Oishi tested how a romantic partner’s success or failure affects the self-esteem of people in heterosexual relationships.  The short story: men feel bad about themselves when good things happen to their female partners.  Women’s self-esteem is unaffected.  Here’s some of the data.

The vertical axis represents self-esteem. In this experiment, respondents were told that their partner scored high on a test of intelligence (“positive feedback”) or low (“negative feedback”).  The leftmost bars show that men who were told that their partners were smart reported significantly lower self-esteem than those who heard that their partners weren’t so smart.

Screenshot_1

In the second condition, respondents were asked to imagine a partner’s success or failure.  Doing so had no effect on women’s self-esteem (rightmost bars).  For men, however, imagining their partners’ success made them feel bad about themselves, whereas imagining their failure made them feel good.Screenshot_2

The various experiments were conducted with American and Dutch college students as well as a diverse Internet sample.  The findings were consistent across populations and were particularly surprising in the context of the Netherlands, which is generally believed to be more gender egalitarian.

We’ve got a long way to go.

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post and Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Racialized Representations of Evolution

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2012.

Paul M. sent along the image below, from an NPR story, commenting on the way skin color is used in the portrayal of evolution.  There’s one obvious way to read this graphic: lighter-skinned people are more evolved (dare we say, “civilized”) than darker-skinned people.  (The portrayal of fatness and its relevance to evolutionary fitness is another story in this particular graphic, as is the use of men and not women to represent humanity).

It seemed worthy to make a point of Paul’s observation, because this racialized presentation of evolution is really common.  A search for the word on Google Images quickly turns up several more.  In fact, almost every single illustration of evolution of this type, unless it’s in black and white, follows this pattern.  (See also our post on representations of modern man.)


This is important stuff.  It reinforces the idea that darker-skinned people are more animalistic than the lighter-skinned.  It also normalizes light-skinned people as people and darker-skinned peoples as Black or Brown people, in the same way that we use the word “American” to mean White-American, but various hyphenated phrases (African-American, Asian-American, etc) to refer to everyone else.  So, though this may seem like a trivial matter, the patterns add up to a consistent centering and applauding of Whiteness.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Smarts vs. Struggle: Cultural Perceptions of Learning

Yesterday NPR’s Morning Edition included a segment by Alix Spiegel about cultural differences in approaches to teaching and learning. Researchers have found interesting differences in how teachers and parents in the U.S. and Japan encourage kids to learn.

Americans tend to focus on intelligence as the source of school success; you do well because you’re smart, kids learn. But Jim Stigler’s observations in Japan indicated that teachers focused more on effort, on letting kids publicly struggle with problems until they finally got the right answer. From this perspective, learning doesn’t occur because you’re inherently smart; it occurs because you keep working at a difficult problem until you figure it out. Jin Li has also found that parents tend to socialize kids in the U.S. into thinking of their successes as a sign of their intelligence more than their hard work, while Chinese parents focus more on persistence and concentration.

These lead to different perceptions of what it means to struggle to learn. As Stigler explains, in the U.S., we often assume that learning comes easily to you if you’re smart, and if you struggle to learn, that you lack ability. This can lead to fatalism; students who don’t easily grasp a concept can quickly see it as impossible. But as Spiegel says,

Obviously if struggle indicates weakness — a lack of intelligence — it makes you feel bad, and so you’re less likely to put up with it. But if struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you’re more willing to accept it.

It’s an interesting report on differences in cultural perceptions of learning, what it means if you struggle to grasp something, and the implications this might have for students’ experiences of their own learning process. It’s worth a listen.

I couldn’t get the audio file to upload; you can listen to it at the NPR site. You can read the full transcript here.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

How Much Do Americans Know About Politics?

The political humor of Saturday Night Live (SNL) has become a mainstay of modern elections in the United States. The show is especially well known for its impersonations of candidates. However, so far this season SNL’s spoof political advertisement from a fictitious group called Low Information Voters of America is generating the greatest amount of political discussion.

The mock advertisement depicts undecided voters as lacking basic civic knowledge as they ask questions about when the election is held, who is running and whether or not they are an incumbent, how long the president serves, who succeeds the president, and whether or not both sexes can legally vote. SNL presents these few remaining swing voters in a way that implies they might have a problematic amount of influence in a close election.

However, is low information an issue only with just late deciding swing voters, or are they much more prevalent in the United States? A little known Zogby poll conducted in 2006 on a representative sample of adults (+/- 2.9%) in the United States provides some insight about how uniformed voters are by comparing political knowledge to awareness of popular culture.

Whereas 73.8% of respondents correctly named the three stooges; only 42.3% of knew the three branches of the U.S. government. Fifty-six percent knew the name of J.K. Rowling’s Fictional boy wizard; yet only 49.5% correctly identified the Prime Minister of England—and this was during the fallout of Iraq war and Downing Street Memo. Sixty-three percent of those polled could not name one Supreme Court justice; 85% were able to identify at least two of the seven dwarfs. Twice as many respondents (22.6%) knew the last American Idol than the last justice confirmed to the Supreme Court (11.3%).

Democracy needs an informed electorate, although the level of information necessary to maintain an effective republic is open for debate. This poll (which does need to be redone because it is becoming quite dated) finds that many adults in the United States — both the decided and undecided — are more informed about popular culture than politics. Thus, while voters may be “informed enough,” it is still difficult to subjectively claim it is healthy for a democracy to have a populace more knowledgeable about reality television, children’s books and fairy tales than civics.

—————————

Jason Eastman is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Coastal Carolina University who researches how culture and identity influence social inequalities.

The Correlation Between Income and SAT Scores

Today is the first day of school at the college where I teach, so I thought it would be a nice time to re-post this oldie-but-goodie on the relationship between income and SAT scores.  I’m sure all of our students are brilliant, of course, but whether the SAT measures intelligence fairly is up for debate.

The College Board is an education association that, among other things, administers the SAT college entrance examination.  A report on the scores from 2009, reviewed by the New York Times, included a break down of scores by the household income of the student. Scores correlate strongly and positively with income:

I can think of two explanations for the correlation.

First, it is certainly true that children with more economic resources, on average, end up better prepared for standardized tests.  They tend to have better teachers, more resource-rich educational environments, more educated parents who can help them with school and, sometimes, expensive SAT tutoring.

Second, the test itself may be biased towards wealthier students.  These tests tend to be written and evaluated by privileged individuals who may inadvertently include class-based knowledge, not just knowledge, in the exam (asking questions, for example, that rely on background information about golf instead of basketball).

In any case, this correlation should give us pause; it calls into question, quite profoundly, the extent to which the SAT is functioning as a fair measure.  Perhaps it measures preparedness for college, but whether it measures potential is up for debate.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sexual Objectification (Part 2): The Harm

This is the second part in a series about how girls and women can navigate a culture that treats them like sex objects (see also, part One)Cross-posted at Ms. and Caroline Heldman’s Blog.

The “sex wars”  of the 1980s pitted radical feminists, who claimed that female sexual objectification is dehumanizing, against feminists concerned about legal and social efforts to control and repress female sexuality.  Over a decade of research now shows that radical feminists were right to be highly concerned.

Getting back to the “sex wars” and how radical feminists were right, women who grow up in a culture with widespread sexual objectification tend to view themselves as objects of desire for others. This internalized sexual objectification has been linked to problems with mental health (e.g., clinical depression“habitual body monitoring”), eating disordersbody shameself-worth and life satisfactioncognitive functioningmotor functioningsexual dysfunctionaccess to leadership, and political efficacy.  Women of all ethnicities internalize objectification, as do men to a lesser extent.

Beyond the internal effects, sexually objectified women are dehumanized by others and seen as less competent and worthy of empathy by both men and women.  Furthermore, exposure to images of sexually objectified women causes male viewers to be more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths.  Add to this the countless hours that most girls/women spend primping and competing with one another to garner heterosexual male attention, and the erasure of middle-aged and elderly women who have little value in a society that places women’s primary value on their sexualized bodies.

Theorists have also contributed to understanding the harm of objectification culture by pointing out the difference between sexy and sexual.  If one thinks of the subject/object dichotomy that dominates thinking in Western culture, subjects act and objects are acted upon.  Subjects are sexual, while objects are sexy.

Pop culture sells women and girls a hurtful lie: that their value lies in how sexy they appear to others, and they learn at a very young age that their sexuality is for others.  At the same time, being sexual, is stigmatized in women but encouraged in men. We learn that men want and women want-to-be-wanted. The yard stick for women’s value (sexiness) automatically puts them in a subordinate societal position, regardless of how well they measure up.  Perfectly sexy women are perfectly subordinate.

The documentary Miss Representation has received considerable mainstream attention, one indicator that many are now recognizing the damaging effects of female sexual objectification.

YouTube Preview Image

To sum up, widespread sexual objectification in U.S. popular culture creates a toxic environment for girls and women.  The following posts in this series provide ideas for navigating new objectification culture in personally and politically meaningful ways.