Why Americans Are Suckers for Quick Fixes From Psychologists

From "power poses" to the self-esteem movement to implicit bias tests, we want to believe one small tweak will solve our problems, says Jesse Singal.


HD Download

"The goal of this book is to explain why we keep falling for the ideas that psychologists tell us about the ways they're going to help fix society," says Jesse Singal, author of The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can't Cure Our Social Ills. "They'll offer some incredible new way to fight racism or to improve education or to improve gender equity in the workplace. There's a rush of attention and often a rush of research dollars. Everyone gets really into them. There's the NPR, New York Times coverage. And then a few years later, more research comes out. We realize the idea was barely true, if that, and it ends up having wasted a lot of time."

Singal shows how the underlying research that propelled phenomena such as "power posing" (which promised to empower women by changing their posture), the self-esteem movement (which tried to reform poorly performing students and even criminals through enthusiastic, unearned praise), and the Implicit Association Test (which purports to measure "unconscious bias" against blacks and other marginalized groups) often can't be replicated and sometimes doesn't even measure what it purports to address.

"Just by dint of our brains, we're always going to be susceptible to less-than-rigorous, monocausal accounts of a lot of our problems," says Singal, who writes for outlets such as New York, The Atlantic, and Reason and co-hosts the podcast Blocked and Reported. But, he tells Nick Gillespie, by laying out the predictable ways in which research goes from the lab to the media to the culture and politics, he hopes to sharpen our critical faculties and improve our media literacy.

Narrated by Nick Gillespie, edited by John Osterhoudt, color correction by Regan Taylor, additional graphics by Isaac Reese

Photos: Juhan Sonin/Flickr/Creative Commons; ID 188393818 Zalexis/; Thatcher Cook/Creative Commons; Erik Hersman/Flickr/Creative Commons; PopTech/Flickr/Creative Commons; Glen Stubbe/ZUMA Press/Newscom; ID 128591411 Monkey Business Images/; Dick Schmidt/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Dennis Van Tine/LFI/Photoshot/Newscom; Steven Branbe/ZUMA Press/Newscom; JIMI LOTT/KRT/Newscom; ID 199480734 Mikechapazzo/; Kilworth Simmonds/Flickr/Creative Commons; Giorgio Fochesato/Westend61 GmbH/Newscom

NEXT: China Censors the Oscars To Block a Hong Kong Protest Film

HD Download

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. You have a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow in an article/video about psychologists. I think that’s half hte problem right there. Try as I might, I can’t find any peer reviews studies on vagina candles and goop in PNAS.

    1. Does Miss Paltrow demonstrate or discuss how to use the candles? Are they for ceremonies, mood lighting, room scenting (what exactly is that ‘vagina’ smell anyway’) or other uses best determined by the user? She is a divorcee, right?

      1. I hear that divorcees are hot to trot! Also, welfare mothers make better lovers!

        (AND, this article is a bit of a re-run from ).

        1. > Also, welfare mothers make better lovers!

          Ugh. No. I did collections once years and years ago. One person I had to collect from was a welfare mom. She was hawt in the superficial sense, but an absolute slob in her apartment. And not slob as in merely messy, but slob in that nothing outside her superficial appearance mattered to her. Put my dick in her and it would come back with a disease. I felt very sad for her toddler.

          My ex-girlfriend ended up on welfare. Not a surprise, her did was a welfare officer. I avoided that error. My buddy did not, he got engaged with her, had a kid, and was within a week of marriage when he wised up and broke it off. He got full custody because the judge couldn’t believe how awful a mom she was. Latest news I got (from the kid, now grown up) is that she spent six months in a funk locked inside her bedroom after Trump won the election.

          1. Making money online more than 15$ just by doing simple work from home. I have received $18376 last month. Its an easy and simple job to do and its earnings are much better than regular office job and even a little child can do this and earns money. Everybody must try this job by just use the info
            on this page…..VISIT HERE

      2. what exactly is that ‘vagina’ smell anyway

        Tuna fish.

        Or the Scranton bus station.

        Take your pick.

      3. Ask Tony Stark of Stark Enterprises. I’m sure he’s had some lingering in the Iron Man suit after a roll in the hay with Pepper Potts.

    2. Try as I might, I can’t find any peer reviews studies on vagina candles and goop in PNAS.

      Try pornhub.

  2. Maybe, just maybe, psychology isn’t a real science – not like chemistry or physics.
    We all want to believe we can control our lives, even in areas where we probably have little or no control at all, so we believe in super foods, herbal remedies, and pop psychology.

    1. I believe in pop psychology, that’s why my theripist is a shelf of funko pops

    2. Psychology is an art, not a science

      1. Also, psychotherapy is basically the same as prostitution.
        The client pays for intimacy and attention for a block of time.

        1. Actually psychotherapy is a Ramones song

    3. It’s definitely not a real science in the same way physics is. Even in well designed studies, it’s hard to avoid a lot of subjective judgement. I think psychological research is interesting and sometimes worth doing, but people seem to miss that the vast majorities of psychology studies are garbage or meaningless.

    4. Racist!

  3. Thousands of careers; mostly getting paid by Gov-Gun theft.

    Remember the good old days when counting jelly-beans wasn’t a $300K/yr full-time career because no one was stupid enough to pay for a service so utterly useless it would make a dog look productive.

    Today’s lefty mentality; [WE] Gov-Gun toting gangs talking a ton of emotional smack B.S. as an excuse to steal what they are to lazy to rightfully *earn* by offering something other than jelly-bean counting.

  4. The strive for total victimhood will keep the shrinks busy. If they could cure people, they would put themselves out of a job.
    Maybe they can “up” their game. They could be like Joel Osteen. They could pack stadiums with “victims” and cure them all at once.

    1. The difference between Olstein and Jim Jones is what, exactly?


        1. Flavor-Aid.

          I bet Kool-Aid really hates that they got associated with Jonestown, but it’s their own fault for having more effective branding.

      1. Demographics? Wealth? Retiring old and wealthy?

        1. Shameless profiteering via TV against people desperate to have lives and identity.

  5. You know who else did a “Power Pose?”

    1. “Chris Bathum”? (Psychologist – therapist extraordinaire!)

      See ,
      Malibu ‘Rehab Mogul’ Guilty on 31 Criminal Counts
      Christopher Bathum’s rap sheet includes a long list of charges, from fraud to forcible rape.
      Your tax and health-insurance money at work!!!

      1. Damn, The Bowery and Skid Row would be a better fate than life with that!

      1. More like a power-draining pose. 🙂

      1. Hmm, so that guy on the billboard ads for the local utility actually had a name.

    2. Perhaps I need to make an addendum: You know who else did a “Power Pose” while making stupid noises?

  6. How about a quick fix to put an end to mass shootings by not publishing the photographs of the perpetrators?

    Because we all know that Americans, while sane enough to buy and possess firearms, aren’t quite sane enough to stop themselves from going on a killing spree after seeing the wrong kind of photograph.

    1. There was a secondary agenda to the idea behind “not publishing the photograph or name” of the shooter, and it was purely political.

    2. Because we all know that Americans..

      Does the concept of the individual even dwell in your little mind comrade?

    3. I believe we declined to publish the pictures because an insufficient number of them were 45 year-old white men in MAGA hats.

  7. When someone offers a “life hack” I immediately tune out.

    1. That makes sense in the modern-day usage, yes…

      Civil war battlefield surgeons, though, as I understand, could change your life quite thoroughly, with a hacksaw!

    2. Top 5 ways to avoid psychological quick fixes! No. 3 wil surprise you!

  8. AND…. a worthless Mask will prevent COVID.

    Theres a whole website worth of rebuttal of that chain of lies, starting with linking BOTH CDC and NIH published Research papers proving MASKS DONT WORK.

    They are a great indicator of SOCIAL CONTROL AND COMPLIANCE via the Media.

    A recently re-aired episode of Modern Marvels (in the US) about growing carbon nano-fibers said the fibers were 1 nano-Meter in diameter. That was likened to the size of a BASKETBALL to the diameter of the EARTH.

    This virus is 120 nM diameter.

    Only a FOOL thinks their pathetic mask is doing anything except giving them lung disease from Fibrosis, which is permanent.

    Yet that a magic solution! People un affected by the virus (80% of the population) wear masks and dont get sick, proving masks work!

    So do Paychiatrists. Unfortunately the Maskers arent seeking their care.

  9. But I want a simple solution to things! Why would I choose a complicated answer to a problem when there’s a simple solution right here?

    1. And nothing offers a simple solution like a book denouncing simple solutions and the reasons we fall for them.

  10. are you saying we shouldn’t listen to the experts? what are some sort of insurectionist

  11. You have a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow in an article/video about psychologists. I think that’s half hte problem right there. Try as I might, I can’t find any peer reviews studies on vagina candles and goop in PNAS.

  12. I’m about halfway through the book now. So far, I think it’s a bit unfocused. I’m in the chapter on Grit, and it raises a bunch of good criticisms of the research, but also a lot of not particularly useful ones. I’ve been pondering the repeated comparison of Grit, and how it underpredicts success vs. IQ significantly. Whether or not that’s true I don’t care to argue, I trust the numbers given. Moreso I think I disagree with the comparison at all, since IQ is almost by definition assumed to be a relatively fixed quality. In which case, focusing on Grit or Work-Ethic or the healing powers of Meth are reasonable since we’re looking for ways to improve outcomes in people and thus focusing on things we believe we can modify in some way is useful. Though, in the book the major advocate for the correlative power of grit admits to not knowing how to improve that in people, so maybe that’s a moot point.
    Generally though, I think the book is a little unfocused. In the interview here you even state the main thing was the military’s usage of Grit related methodology in dealing with PTSD not being useful. That makes sense, but it comes late in the chapter and is relatively small part of the argument made.

    I think I’m overfocusing on Grit because it’s the chapter I just finished so I’ll try to generalize my thoughts. The book focuses a lot on the idea that this research hyperfocuses on one quality too much, and that life is very complicated and one variable can’t explain it all. But, a lot of the people discussed even admit that, at least the researchers. Attempting to measure one variable though and see how it impacts things is a core scientific ideal. It’s almost impossible in Social Science, but it is still an ideal for which they strive. So, the repeated commentary on them oversimplifying is not convincing to me.
    The best parts of the book are how these ideas dangerously leak into bureaucracy and government though, and how these then get forced in a top-down manner across large groups without really having much evidence for success. I wish the book could be organized around that thread even more. The research side is interesting, but adds a lot of noise to what seems to be the main thesis.

    1. Giving up is underrated, really. Knowing when cut one’s losses and reallocate time, energy, and money to other endeavors is an important skill.
      Completely unrelated to that, excited for the new Ys?

    2. I don’t know about Grit, but Grits (the plural referring to ground dry hominy that’s boiled with water) served with butter, salt, pepper, cheese with a side of eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, and/or steak, gravy (milk or red-eye from country ham), toast, jelly or honey, juice, and coffee, makes for a very successful Southern breakfast, which can make for a successful day, which, repeated and cumulatively, can make for a successful career and life (though you may want to eat the meat lean and avoid nitrates. YMMV.)

      How do I know all this? Well…you can’t rush research, just go with it and enjoy. 🙂

    3. “it raises a bunch of good criticisms of the research, but also a lot of not particularly useful ones.”

      Mark Levin refers to that sort of thing as “Back Benching”…

  13. There was an APA statistical study a couple of years ago that reported that over 50% of peer reviewed psychological research were unrepeatable. If an experiment is unrepeatable by another unbiased scientist then it is meaningless. Since more than half of psychiatric studies are meaningless, you’d get better results tossing a coin. I’m always amazed how people think that some shrink who has known you for a brief moment can determine what makes you tick. It reminds me of a scene from Crocodile Dundee when Mick is told that someone is seeing a shrink. His response was, “Doesn’t he have any mates?”

    1. “If an experiment is unrepeatable by another unbiased scientist then it is meaningless.”

      It’s not meaningless. It means psychology is not a science. Neither is statistics, by the way.

  14. And nothing offers a simple solution like a book denouncing simple solutions and the reasons we fall for them.

Please to post comments