Redefining Mental Illness

Two months ago, the British Psychological Association released a remarkable document entitled “Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia.” Its authors say that hearing voices and feeling paranoid are common experiences, and are often a reaction to trauma, abuse or deprivation: “Calling them symptoms of mental illness, psychosis or schizophrenia is only one way of thinking about them, with advantages and disadvantages.”

The report says that there is no strict dividing line between psychosis and normal experience: “Some people find it useful to think of themselves as having an illness. Others prefer to think of their problems as, for example, an aspect of their personality which sometimes gets them into trouble but which they would not want to be without."

The Risk of ‘Material Parenting’

As a parent and scholar who has studied materialism for much of her professional life, Marsha Richins had long pondered the following question: Does dangling goods in front of children as a reward for good behavior or yanking them away as a form of punishment contribute to materialism when those kids grow up?

After half a decade studying the matter as a marketing professor at the Robert J. Trulaske Sr. College of Business at the University of Missouri, she says she believes that there’s a connection. Ms. Richins and Lan Nguyen Chaplin, an assistant professor of business administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago, are publishing a paper saying so in The Journal of Consumer Research in April.

Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions

The deaths of African-Americans at the hands of the police in Ferguson, Mo., in Cleveland and on Staten Island have reignited a debate about race. Some argue that these events are isolated and that racism is a thing of the past. Others contend that they are merely the tip of the iceberg, highlighting that skin color still has a huge effect on how people are treated.

Arguments about race are often heated and anecdotal. As a social scientist, I naturally turn to empirical research for answers. As it turns out, an impressive body of research spanning decades addresses just these issues — and leads to some uncomfortable conclusions and makes us look at this debate from a different angle.

The central challenge of such research is isolating the effect of race from other factors. For example, we know African-Americans earn less income, on average, than whites. Maybe that is evidence that employers discriminate against them. But maybe not. We also know African-Americans tend to be stuck in neighborhoods with worse schools, and perhaps that — and not race directly — explains the wage gap. If so, perhaps policy should focus on place rather than race, as some argue.