Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What if your genes don't fit anymore?

This column from the NY Times reminded me of a couple of things: studies of identical twins, and a recent author who spoke at Reedley College and the Reedley Peace Center. First a quote from the NY Times column:
In one study, women whose identical twin suffered from depression were significantly more likely to have been assaulted, lost a job, divorced, or had a serious illness or major financial problems than people whose fraternal twin was depressed. ... These bad events did not occur because the women were depressed, as the correlations persisted even when women who were currently depressed were excluded from the study. Thus, genes can act on the same disorder by making people more sensitive to stressful environmental events and by making these events more likely to occur.
And for those of you "getting older", read the penultimate paragraph of the column.

The author I heard talk was promoting her book Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend. She gave almost the exact talk as she did on BookTV (even where she made a slight mistake in delivery), but if you watch the BookTV talk skip the introductions since the audio is terrible. It cleans up when she starts talking.

One thing that was in her Reedley talk but not on BookTV was a bit of a slam of Zimbardo's prison "experiment". I think that was a little unfair and is probably the result of an engineering professor's (her) definition of "experiment" compared to a social psychologist's view. She did made a good point that Zimbardo's prison experiment suffered from selection bias:
Also, it has been argued that selection bias may have played a role in the results. Researchers from Western Kentucky University recruited students for a study using an advertisement similar to the one used in the Stanford Prison Experiment, with and without the words "prison life." It was found that students volunteering for a prison life study possessed dispositions toward abusive behavior.
Anyway, after she started talking I realized that years ago I'd read her book about being an observer/translator on Russian fishing boats, as part of a US-Russian joint fishing effort. Interesting book.