Posts Tagged ‘REDIRECT’

REDIRECT: Range of Applications

July 11, 2015

This is the fourth consecutive post on Timothy Wilson’ REDIRECT.  To get some idea of the range of applications for which REDIRECT is appropriate consider the following chapter titles:

Shaping Our Narratives:  Increasing Personal Well-Being
Shaping Our Kids Narratives:  Becoming Better Parents
Just Say…Volunteer:  Preventing Teenage Pregnancies
Scared Crooked:  Reducing Teenage Violence
Everybody’s Doing It…Or Are They?  Reducing Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Surely They Won’t Like Me—Or Will They? Reducing Prejudice
It’s About Me, Not My Group:  Closing the Achievement Gap
Sustained Change:  Finding Solutions

As you can readily see, the application of REDIRECT is wide.  In reading these chapters, you will gain insights into how redirecting personal narratives work.  You will also read about research assessing effectiveness and find that there are many problems for which REDIRECT works, but some intuitively appealing, and sometimes popular programs do not.  The primary problem is that the majority of programs are not evaluated at all.  However, the book includes two websites that provide such information.  The U.S. Department of Education  created a ss))website called the What Works Clearinghouse, which reviews the research literature and provides educating with descriptions of programs that work (  The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado evaluates the effectiveness of programs that attempt to reduce violence and drug used and publishes their results on a website (

There is way too much research above to even attempt to summarize.  However, one that I find most interesting are stereotypical threats covered in It’s About Me, Not My Group: Closing the Achievement gap.  An example of this used the test Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices Test (Raven APM).  There were three experiments.  One in which the Raven APM was described as an IQ test.  The second in which it was described as just a test.  In the third experiment it was simply described as a bunch of puzzles.  One group of students taking the test was White.  The other group of students was black.  When the Raven APM was described as an IQ test there is a large difference in favor of the white students.  When the Raven APM was described as just a test this gap was greatly reduced. However, when the Raven APM was described as just a bunch of puzzles, the black bar graph overtook the white bar graph.

Another example is the elderly.  When thinking that a memory test was about differences between age groups, the elderly group performed more poorly than the younger group.  However, when they were unaware that the memory test was about age, this difference disappeared.  In reality there are some memory tests in which performance improves with age, and others in which it declines with age.  Apparently the memory test involved in this study was age neutral.

Both researchers and individuals need to be aware of this threat of stereotyping.  Researchers need to be sure that there results are not due to stereotypes.  Individuals need to assure themselves that they are not victimized by the stereotype threat.    So it’s not about me, it’s about my group, and even that is not true.  I will not be defined by a stereotype.  Similarly, we need to be careful that we do not define others in terms of stereotypes.

Experimental Evaluation: A Key Theme In REDIRECT

July 7, 2015

This is the second post reviewing Timothy Wilson’s REDIRECT.  Consider the following traumatic incident.  Two police officers responded to a house fire.  When they arrived they heard what every emergency worker dreads—screams for help from inside a house engulfed in flames.  Through a window, they could barely make out the silhouette of a man stumbling and falling, just short of escape.  By the time the police officers managed to get in, it was too late.  The man was “curled up like a baby in his mother’s womb.  That’s what someone burned to death looks like.  One of these officers knew the victim personally.  He was so haunted by seeing his friend die that he had trouble eating and sleeping.  His bosses sympathized and wanted to help, so they did what police departments do: they scheduled a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) session for the fire.  The premised of CISD is that when people have experienced a traumatic event they should air their feelings as soon as possible, so that they don’t bottle up these feelings and develop Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD).  In a typical CISD session, which lasts from three to four hours, participants are asked to describe the traumatic event from their own perspective, express their thoughts and feelings about the event, and relate any physical or psychological  symptoms they are experiencing.  A facilitator  emphasizes that it is normal to have stressful reactions to traumatic events, gives stress management advice, answers questions, and assesses whether participants need any additional services.  Numerous fire and police departments have made CISD the treatment of choice for officers who witness horrific events.  It is also widely used with civilians.  Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, more than nine thousand counselors rushed to New York City to help survivors deal with the trauma and prevent post-traumatic stress disorder, and many of theses counselors employed psychological debriefing techniques,

Now consider another approach.  Rather than asking the traumatized individual to relive the trauma, suppose we let a few weeks go by and see if he is still traumatized by the tragic event.  If so, we could ask him to complete on four consecutive nights, a simple exercise in which he writes down his deepest thoughts and emotions about the experience and how it relates to the rest of his life.  That’s it—no meetings with trained facilitators, no stress management advice, just a writing exercise done by oneself four nights in a two.  This is known as the Pennebacker method.

When CISD was tested properly, and it took a while to test it properly because so many thought it was obvious that it was beneficial.  When they did they found that not only was CISD ineffective, but it might also cause psychological problems.  People who had been treated with the CISD interventions had a significantly higher incidence of PTSD, were more anxious and depressed, and were less content with their lives than those who were not treated.  It turns out that making people undergo CISD right after trauma impedes the natural healing process and might even “freeze” memories of the event.  Harvard psychologist Richard McNally and his colleagues recommended that “for scientific and ethical reasons, professional should cease compulsory debriefing of trauma-exposed people.”  Nevertheless, in 2007 after a disturbed student at Virginia Tech University killed thirty-two students and faculty, students and emergency worker underwent stress-debriefing techniques similar to CISD.

On the other hand, dozens of experiments in which people were randomly assigned to write about personal traumas or mundane topics such as what they did that day.  In the short run, people typically find to express their feelings about traumatic experiences.  But as time goes by, those who do so are better off in a number of respects.  They show improvements in immune-system functioning, are less likely to visit physicians, get better grades in college, and miss fewer days of work.

You will find this theme throughout REDIRECT, well established programs that are highly esteemed proven worthless.  And you will find other programs that, when evaluated with properly designed experiments, are found to be effective.  You will get a sense of what works and what does not work and why.

For more on Pennebaker, go to his homepage

Timothy Wilson and REDIRECT

July 5, 2015

Timothy Wilson gave an interesting talk at APS, but rather than blogging about the talk, I will be doing several blog posts on the recent book he has published, REDIRECT:  Changing the Stories We Live By.  This is a very important book and deserves a thorough treatment, although there is no way I can do justice to this book, and I highly recommend that you read it yourselves.  There is a previous healthy memory blog post on a previous book by Timothy Wilson, Strangers to Ourselves, which I also strongly recommend.

One of the objectives of the book is to debunk the self-help book industry, which is not to say that all self-help books are junk, but most of them definitely are.  Consider such best selling volumes as, You Can Heal Your Life, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and The Secret.  These books ran up more than $700 million in sales in 2005.  When other forms of self-help are added to the mix, such as infomercials, seminars, and sen personal coaches, the total amount spent on self-improvement reached $9.6 billion in 2006.  The fact that there are so many self-help books on the market might indicate that none of them is highly effective.  If one of them did unlock the secret to everlasting happiness, it would corner the market and crown out the others.  In the self-help industry there is what is known as the eighteenth-month rule, which is that the person most likely to buy a self-help book is someone who bought one eighteen months earlier.

Consider “The Secret,” which was distributed as both a film and a companion book released in 2006.  Both have been phenomenology successful.  The DVD has sold more than two million copies and the book more than 4 million copies.  The secret revealed in this book is the “law of attraction,” which says that thinking about something makes it more likely to happen to you.  If you understand this basic “law of the universe,” there are these three simple steps to getting to what you want: first, think about it—focus on the positive and not the negative.  The second step is to believe in what you want and have faith that it will soon be yours.  The third step is to receive the idea of having what you want, feeling as you will once you get.  Now here’s how all this works.  “Thoughts have frequencies that are magnetic, attracting things that are on the same frequency.  Moreover, the frequency you transmit reaches beyond cities, beyond countries, beyond the world.  It reverberates throughout the entire universe.”  Can you believe this?  Is there such stupidity rampant in the world?  Is the name of our species, homo sapiens, a misnomer?  Please tell me that people are buying these books and videos for laughs.  I realize that most self-help books are not this much off the wall, BUT LOOK AT THE LARGE NUMBERS OF SALES!

Now there is nothing wrong with being positive per se.  It is a quite prominent theme in self-help books,  Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking was on the New York Times bestseller list and sold more than five million copies.  Positive Psychology has similar problems that were reviewed and remedied in the healthy memory blog post the “Other Side of Positive Psychology.”  And you will see the positivity also plays an important role in REDIRECT, but positivity cannot stand alone.