Jesse Singal: Why We Keep Falling for Psychological Quick Fixes

From "power poses" to the self-esteem movement to implicit bias tests, Americans are suckers for bad ideas from psychologists.


Do you remember the "power pose" craze from about a decade ago? In the second-most popular TED talk ever, psychologist Amy Cuddy has told over 60 million viewers that they can change their lives by simply changing their body language.

If you grew up in the 1990s, you probably experienced classes devoted to boosting your self-esteem, independent of your actual achievements on tests or assignments.

Have you taken the Implicit Association Test or IAT, which claims to test your unconscious bias against minorities and other groups? It is routinely used in all sorts of diversity training programs and educational settings, from K-12 through college.

These are all examples of what science writer and podcaster Jesse Singal calls "quick fixes" that attempt to address pressing social issues based on fundamentally flawed research. In The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can't Cure Our Social Ills, Singal looks at these and other attempts to change social policy based on bad or faulty science.

One of Cuddy's fellow researchers has said that their research doesn't prove anything in the real world. The K-12 curriculum that started the self-esteem boom was based on a misreading of Nathaniel Branden's work by a single powerful California politician. And the IAT is not only unreliable—the same individual will generate very different scores when they retake the test—it's not clear that "unconscious bias" is a major influence on how we act toward one another.

Singal, co-host of the popular podcast Blocked & Reported, tells Nick Gillespie his goal is to explain why we keep falling for ideas that psychologists say will fix society. He hopes that we'll waste less time focusing on things that don't really help anyone.