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.


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"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

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