[Current Topics in Psychology]

A.P.A. Convention Highlights

American Psychological Association
122nd Annual Convention - Washington, D.C.
August 7-10, 2014

[Washington, DC]

Asynchronously Live from Washington, D.C.

7-10 August 2014

Opening Ceremony | Phil Zimbardo on Heroism vs. Evil | Aaron T. Beck at 93 | David Mohr: Technology for Better or Worse | Temple Grandin: All Kinds of Minds


This year's annual convention of the American Psychological Association was held in Washington, D.C. The town was devoid of politicians and delightfully dry and breezy, with plenty of sun and none of the showers or heat which have greeted visitors in many Augusts past.

The 122nd Annual Convention officially commenced on Thursday afternoon, with the APA President, Dr. Nadine Kaslow, welcoming everyone, acknowledging how 'it takes a village' and applauding how the APA and Ray Fowler have established Memos of Understanding with 16 countries, including 3 new countries, France, Turkey, and Israel. She reiterated how the APA logo is interlocked rings representing science, practice, education, and public interest. A brief message from Dr. Norm Anderson, and a reminder of how Washington has been our national headquarters since 1925, with its headquarter driving revival of the Union Station area since the 1990s. Dr. Kaslow paid homage to some distinguished friends, presented an award to Dr. Beverly Tatum, commending her efforts toward 'educating the whole person'. Then, in an example of 'psychology and the arts' the audience was treated to a performance by 2 ballet dancers performing a balcony scene in 'Romeo and Juliette'. The keynote address was delivered by television celebrity and mental health advocate Jane Pauley. Jane Pauley was powerful, direct, and genuine in describing her own story of coming to grips with the reality of mental health or disability. Clearly inspirational to many, Pauley shared both personal and professional stories illustrating some important ideas with some fascinating insights into her journey.

Following are my notes and 'asynchronously live' reports from the Washington Convention Center. The offerings are diverse and many, and most are not recorded or transcribed. Thus, as in the past many years, I've chosen some great events to see first-hand, at the expense of not being able to see two or three other excellent symposia or plenary sessions at the same time, with 1000's of presentations packed into 4 days, with 1000s of psychologists converging. Reflecting my own interests as well as respecting the importance of some historically profound psychologists who I fully expect to further enlighten and inspire many of us this week. Here are some of the luminaries in their areas of expertise, who I was fortunate to experience, both presentations and interactive discussions. Legends and pioneers.


Disclaimer: I try to ensure accurate reports of study results, names, dates, etc., and use a combination of verbatim notes, presenter materials, data summaries, and direct follow-ups with presenters. If I have inadvertently mis-stated any information (names, dates, numbers, etc.) I would be grateful for any corrections and will be sure to update/correct any articles I present pertaining to these presentations.



Zimbardo: APA 2014

Of the 10% who do resist evil, what are the conditions and qualities which foster heroism?

Photo by Fenichel - Opening Day, Washington Convention Center)

Phil Zimbardo wants you to be heroic!

Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D.

Transforming Evil Into Heroic Good

Dr. Phil Zimbardo, known widely for his 'Stanford Prison Study' and his explorations of 'why good people do evil things', began with a brief overview of his current projects (encouraging 'heroic imagination') in Sicily, Poland, and elsewhere. He recapped some of his thoughts on 'good versus evil' after which the audience was treated to Zimbardo's recent theme song, with Santana singing 'you've got to change your evil ways'. Zimbardo, who has focused on systemic causes for those evil ways -- his mission these days, and perhaps since the time he called off the Prison Experiment -- has been exploring ways to 'change those evil ways', fueled by his observation that while maybe 90% of his subjects gave in to the pressures, 10% refused. What if even 10% of the general population were prepared to engage 'heroic' principles and help resist evil, or help its victims? So, Zimbardo explained, he has expanded beyond "How do you create an evil situation" to "inspiring people, everyday people, to become heroes." Still he remains fascinated by the issue of "what makes good people go wrong", though he noted that psychological research most often breaks down such issues into "precise questions we address experimentally" but not necessarily getting at causes.

Looking at the larger context, some of the causes and effects are well known: "Poverty is a systemic evil" and even in the U.S. today, "at least 20% of children are growing up beneath the poverty level." What difference does it make? For starts, mortality: Impoverished children tend to die up to 2 years earlier than the non-impoverished. "Poverty kills". Aside from the developmental and social influences contributing to moral development, Zimbardo shared how he was also intrigued by 'the good Dr. Jeckyl and the bad Mr. Hyde'. With no clear guidance or prohibitions from a human subjects committee at the time of the Prison experiment, he was struck by seeming malleability of people, good-bad, and "I wanted to know about the line." Zimbardo wondered also whether possibly 'being good' acts for some as a 'security blanket'. For others, "it's all about power, [to] hurt, kill...racist and sexist jokes, lynching..." And, also exerting a powerful influence, "big corporations are also evil". For the banks who ruined so many lives, what was the consequence? "Bank of America is going to pay a 17 Billion Dollar fine [after they] made *trillions* selling bad loans." So, in terms of his perspective, Zimbardo reflected "I think one of my contributions has been to expand on the nature of evil."

Zimbardo (a social psychologist) continues to observe the social context which pulls for group norms, behavior, and conformity. "People are never alone, without an audience, real or in your mind." He repeated his 'bad barrel' metaphor: the notion of "The Bad Barrel, in which we put the bad apples and see if it will change a good apple." He still feels strongly that behavior is often ignored at the systemic level, including within political, legal, and organizational domains. Why do ordinary people 'turn evil'? One of the factors is clearly dehumanization, which we can see on television (e.g., war atrocities) and as was seen in both the Prison Experiment and at Abu Ghraib. [See
this presentation for more on this aspect.]

Aspects of dehumanization often seen in systemic evil include:

Systemic evil may also be nationalized, for example China's encouraging tobacco addiction among men (54% of whom smoke profusely), earning the state-owned tobacco industry 605 Billion Yuan, and killing one million citizens a year. There are many examples of 'systemic evil' globally:

Zimbardo underscored that, as his high school classmate Stanley Milgram can attest, the 'shocking' answer to the question of whether we can elicit 'bad' behavior easily from normally 'good' people is, YES. Zimbardo reviewed the Milgram design (Subjects giving into the pressure to deliver painful shock even at high dosage with feedback suggesting the imposition of pain). He noted how Subjects responded to experimenter prompts to continue, and "almost all obey". Perhaps 1 percent of Subjects would impose shock up to a 'sadism level', it has been suggested. Aside from coercive or group pressure, Zimbardo notes how such situations have something else happening: the 'fundamental attribution error' whereby we over-estimate the authorities' power and under-estimate our own. The actual finding was that 65% of 1000 Subjects administered the maximum voltage. Was it the influence of the experimenter? The 'systemic power of Yale' exerting influence to cooperate? To test the latter, similar studies (when they could be done) were conducted in smaller university settings. The findings? Sixty to Ninety percent complied with the task demand of delivering ostensibly painful shock. So for Zimbardo, the question now becomes, who are these 10 % who held firm against 'evil'?

Turning his attention to the few who resisted the powerful evil task demand: Can these people serve as models or offer us something from which we can learn? It seems that those who lead or take heroic actions do create a 'positive ripple', whereas others will follow a good samaritan once a situation happens and it's not possible to ignore (as people did, say, with Kitty Genovese). As for giving in, instead, to the evil, Zimbardo cited the Milgramian motto: 'All evil begins with 15 watts', noting that a first step of the Nazis was dehumanizing too, requiring the yellow star to be worn by Jews.

Zimbardo recalled some of the highlights of the Prison Experiment [For more, see his presentation on the
40th anniversary of the The Stanford Prison Experiment.] Dr. Zimbardo highlighted some of the things which seemed important: the selection of 'normal' students and how they began to de-compensate within 36 hours, spurring others to 'act crazy' to 'get out of jail' despite their initial consent to participate. "No one said 'I quit'" but expressions of anger and unhappiness were common. The guards, meanwhile, also moved 'into character', one even emulating 'Cool Hand Luke' in his smooth but sadistic style. Over time the guards started thinking of themselves as 'puppeteers' with the Subject/Prisoners routinely denigrated to the role of 'puppets'. They were clearly (psychologically) tortured, with humiliation, sexual and otherwise, and soon the prisoners formed rebellions, while some became 'snitches' and guards started playing one against another. All in a condensed period of time, only days. It took 5 days to see results (paper bags on head, etc.) similar to what took weeks to emerge in Abu Ghraib. Wrapping up the look-back at the Prison Experiment, Zimbardo said that all the materials related to the Stanford experiment are now archived at Stanford, and available to scholars.

Addressing the 'thin line' between accountability vs. giving into 'situational power', Zimbardo noted that in researching events at Abu Ghraib he found that in 3 months, there were no incidents at all during the day, but the 'night shift' of reservist soldiers were the ones who approached a 'frenzy' of prisoner abuses in their pursuit of 'actionable' information. Meanwhile, Rumsfield (Sec. of Defense) was signing off on acceptance of torture methods including water-boarding and suspensions over water, wired to electricity. Soon General Miller was proclaiming "We know this is not systemic", blaming only a few 'bad apples'. (Sound familiar?) Zimbardo found himself defending one of those 'bad apples' on the basis of his having been immersed into the bad barrel, "the power of the situation" The 'problem' is that he was tried in Baghdad, as opposed to a jury of peers, and far from the normal circumstances where one might note a base rate of 'what any person would do'. Instead, the system tried itself and the winner was what Zimbardo terms 'The Lucifer Effect: How ordinary people go bad' and cross the line. The effect appears to be worse, the younger one is. Situational power. After many grim findings of this Lucifer Effect, Zimbardo finds some 'good news' in a 2014 study of 1200 children, which found that some may yet become heroes, this group of people with 'the power to resist' evil.

Turning from how evil is nurtured to how those with resistance might become heroes or simply focus on 'good' deeds rather than bad, Zimbardo identified 12 types of heroes. But what can be done to identify and promote the mechanism which inspires heroism when called for? "The answer is: We do not have a clue!" He cited Seligman's notion that 'heroism is not a virtue, it's an action", agreeing with the importance of action but seeing that having heroic inclinations is in fact a virtue, and noting that Ghandi observed how 'the line shifts in each of us'. Are heroes modeled as cartoons? No, said Zimbardo, because "cartoon characters have super powers. We have brains. "

Also, there are different kinds of courage and heroic behavior. But "moral courage is at the core of heroic action".

Why do we need heroes? And what evil should be targeted? There is "evil of action and evil of inaction.... Heroes are ordinary people whose actions are extraordinary." (Zimbardo quipped that President Obama "stole some of my lines, but it's O.K.".) An example of heroic action may be an act of defiance, such as Rosa Parks, arrested for her act of defiance. And there is Zimbardo's 'Number One Hero', Irena Sendler [ Poland - see
www.irenasendler.org ] whose actions saved 2500 Jewish children of the Warsaw Ghetto from certain extermination. The 'positive ripple' from this one woman's heroic action: Now the children she saved have given birth to over 10,000 descendents. "That's a powerful ripple effect!" Other heroic acts of note include 9-year-old Lin Hao, who saved classmates in his school in the aftermath of an earthquake. Asked why he put himself at risk to save the others, he responded in essence, "I was a hall monitor. I did my job.". How does this happen, and how can we encourage more positive ripples? Other inspirational examples abound, such as the man who jumped onto New York City subway tracks in the face of an oncoming train to save a man who had fallen onto the tracks. (They both survived.) Wesley Autrey. Hero. It turns out that he had learned how to bury into the track between the rails, as a child, his mother calling him 'the black Evil Knievel'. But what prompted him to do this, now, for a stranger? Zimbardo describes this particular example, 'impulsive heroism'.

Returning to questions of morality and how it can be warped, Zimbardo returned to the story of his life at the time of the Stanford Prison Study, and how his girlfriend (now wife) forced him to stop the experiment, after seeing the hellish 'lab' with paper bags on heads, psychological torture, and guard cruelty. "It's terrible what you're doing to these boys... I don't understand... You're a stranger to me... I'm not sure I can have anything to do with you if this is the real you." So profound was this jolt back to reality that the experiment was halted. And he changed. Today he is married to both his girlfriend and his mission to not only personally focus more on heroism than evil, but to instill 'heroic imagination' as an element of daily life, along with the already common elements of 'evil'.

** ANNOUNCEMENT ** - "You are hearing it first". On August 20th, at Burbank Studios in Hollywood, filming begins on a film titled 'Stanford Prison Experiment'. Zimbardo said there are some great actors portraying both prisoners and guards, and only the role of himself remains to be casted. His suggestion would be Johnny Depp, though he said he'd be find with, say, Brad Pitt.

So now, for the past 8 years Zimbardo has been working to develop educational modules (6 to date) highlighting areas such as 'mindsets', 'situational blindness', the 'bystander effect', peer pressure, and 'adaptive attribution'. He shared some of the program, which consists of video training sessions. At the end of the lessons there are some interactive, conceptual questions, such as naming '3 things you learned today'. A goal is that 'nobody leaves the room until everybody knows everything'. Once people are tuned in, the focus expands from 'what did you learn from Zimbardo?' to 'What would you tell others?'. He stresses 'the evil of inaction', framing the issue as, 'It's not enough to know something. You are a social change agent. Every day.' Zimbardo mentioned a relevant video which can be found on YouTube, entitled 'The Science of Situation'`.

Zimbardo traced notions of the 'Good Samaritan' back to the Bible, and the road to Jericho. He noted how the Golden Rule "promotes the notion of social responsibility". In real everyday life, however, when action might make a difference, 'people just watch'. What if they were primed to think, 'Would I help? Would I intervene? What keeps me from acting? Here he showed some short video clips showing various (confederate) actors posed as derelicts in a doorway, on the ground. Subjects included unkempt, poor-looking males, well-dressed males, and females, some seemingly in bad straits, some possibly OK but passed out. The interesting thing was how many times people of all sorts just walked by. The better-dressed the fallen actor, the more likely and more quickly a response was. Interestingly, once one person made an effort to help, others joined in. But it took that first act ('heroic imagination') before anyone seemed to notice or find the situation a compelling call to action. Also interesting: "No one raises an eyebrow" when the person looks decrepit, but the exact same scenario, where the 'victim' wore a suit, ended up taking only 6 seconds before someone asked, 'Are you O.K., sir?'. Sir. Yet when a shoddily dressed male called out for help repeatedly, nobody at all responded. And consider how a casually dressed woman had 34 people pass by, notice her, and not one person offered help for 4 minutes. Then the 'temporary rule' of not engaging strangers gave way when someone else initiated helping behavior. Others joined in. So what is the new rule, and how do we promote scenarios when people DO help? One technique may be the educational modules with follow-up discussions, asking such questions as 'does it work?', and activities such as 'think of a time when you could have helped, but didn't'. Often, he has noticed, this elicits memories of watching or experiencing bullies, but doing nothing. Zimbardo advises that first we need to 'understand yourself and understand the situation' if one is to change that situation. Showing some more clips as illustrations, Kitty Genovese was highlighted as an example of doing nothing. The answer is in both the awareness and in 'behavioral intervention... you want to show a reduction in bullying [or whatever]'

Zimbardo finds this an exciting as well as important area of study. At a time when most educational discussion is about STEM curriculum, he is gratified to see programs emerging from California's Psi Beta (honor society) to Sicily, Budapest, Sweden and Capetown, and is hoping to set up a training program at Stanford to work with NGO's in South Africa.

What can you do as ONE PERSON, asks Zimbardo. You can form
Hero Squads, or practice being a 'positive deviant' with like-minded partners. ("Heroes are socio-centric, not ego-centric.") "Do something positive every day. Give a compliment - nobody gives a compliment any more!" Here he stopped to praise someone's scarf and go on to compliment the entire outfit. "You gotta challenge rules!" He ended up with a slide of assembled Nazis of the Third Reich. The vast crowd had their arms out straight in a salute to Hitler, all except one, with his hands folded in front of him. The power of conformity can be resisted. One can resist evil, and it is possible to turn our heroic imagination into genuine positive acts of kindness, humanism, 'good' actions and behavior....


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Invited Plenary Address:
Marriage of Technology and Psychological Intervention: For Better or Worse

Dr. Mohr is the director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies and a professor in several psychology/psychiatry departments at Northwestern University. His current research involves a 'context system' using mobile technology (GPS, accelerometry, etc.) to facilitate real-time support for people with depression.

This description intrigued me, but in this brief presentation (the much-loved 50 minute hour), Dr. Mohr presented a broad overview of the various technological adaptations over the years, from 'telephone therapy' to VR and mobile 'apps' for mental health support. The title was intriguing as well, this 'marriage... for better or worse' of human and tech-device. The short answer here, is it's neither one or the other (better or worse), but has the potential to enrich - or not.

Dr. Mohr discussed his work at CBITS ('sea bits'), the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies, which now involves 10 software developers, engineers, and others. He noted how historically, the 'marriage' of health and communication technology goes back to 1876, when a British journal reported on the use of a telephone for diagnosing a cough. The JAMA in response warned against use of the phone for diagnosis. It was not until 1949 that one finds the first mention of psychotherapy aided by technology. Fast forward and Dr. Mohr turned to the present incidence of mental health disorders (some say 26% of the population) and how mathematically it seems we need many more mental health professionals. He hopes that access can also be improved through technology. He described the 3 ways to implement treatment via device [ Note the British NHS and their use of CCBT ] - basically 1) Stand-alone, 2) Low Intensity (E.g., short phone calls) and 3) In the context of Standard Treatment.

A therapist (or software/device) might offer didactic content, teaching and informing patients; homework exercises can be offered and reviewed, and there may be an interface for human support.

Dr. Mohr described some of the research on some trials, noting that with stand-alone apps, adherence was poor (>90% dropout). On the other hand, in the SPARX trial (Merry et al, 2012), they achieved good results with a 'gamified' interface. There are over 40,000 health apps on the market now, with nearly 2000 of them targeting specific problems (like 'anxiety'). Many of these are 'pretty bad' but a few, such as an eating-disorder support app called 'The Eatery' seemed to work well. It was noted, by the way, that 86% of app downloads for these mental health products were never used. Only 2.6% actually used the product more than 10 times. Dr. Mohr's question: "Lots of people download apps, but who uses them and are they our patients?" And then there is the 'RunKeeper' phenomenon. Here's an application (bit of software) which monitors running performance. "If you don't see the app, will you stop running?"

With human support, research shows some of these programs approach the efficacy level of 'psychotherapy'. Then again, as things become more 'manualized', other research suggests that training lay people gets results similar as to those of the professional. Another element is the social norm. In terms of adherence to a program, others may exert a strong influence. Citing Zimbardo's work in social psychology and heroism, Mohr noted that "a few people can get a lot of people to do something."

Mohr and his colleagues also explore the relative power of the different ingredients in communication, especially (as is widely addressed with online therapies). Office psychotherapy typically involves sight and sound, words and non-verbal behavior. Now many people rely on email, and what does this do? It 'strips out' the voice channel. In general, he views full-scale communication as akin to 'bandwidth', the more the better. Then again, some studies suggest that 'leaner communication builds trust faster'. [Does that explain Twitter's success, I wonder!] Also, 'in the absence of information people tend to view information givers more positively'.

In the short time left, Dr. Mohr mentioned some of the tools which enable users to self-monitor, as with the Mood Manager, use of which has shown 'significant reduction in depression, with some support. It follows the CBT model. A slide on the screen shows 'Peer Networking', where group members using a device will 'buzz' a member who hasn't logged in for 3 days, and encourage their return. Finally, a few data processing and media tracking tools were highlighted, as examples of 'what's out there' now.

In conclusion Dr. Mohr emphasized use of those things known to work, such as homework support and the supported CBT programs. Design needs to engage youth. Tools need to be individualized, such as the Virtual Reality treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, such as 'Virtual Iraq'. Gamify. Think global need too - for example there are only 500 psychiatrists on the entire African Continent. Zimbabwa has something called the 'Friendship Bench' where educated locals (6th-8th grade education) meet with people who line up to consult with the tablet which offers support via an automated problem-solving therapy model. In Europe, since 2006 there has been empirical support for programs lie 'Beating the Blues' and 'FearFighter'. In Australia there is Mindspot. Despite all the science and technology in the U.S., sadly "we're inching towards an organized healthcare system". Slowly. With opposition and obstacles. No wonder so much mental health support is found elsewhere, although surely it can be found here too.

As for the marriage, Dr. Mohr wisely noted that 'technology itself is not enough'. We have tools to serve us - the washing machine, the coffee maker. One of the current projects he works on has to do with 'context awareness', with one goal being to provide 'data' about bio situational factors to be used in any type of AI or supported/automated program. Here there is a human problem: "People don't even take a pill; how can we get them to wear a device?" So, there are location sensors and it's clear that many people ARE [permanently] attached to devices which already can provide contextual information, GPS location, weather for example: "Don't tell someone to take walk - in a storm!" Other factors in the design: movement, sleep patterns, mood state.

The range of reaction is quite varied of course. For some there is now access and a fair chance of offering a positive support to those who would otherwise not receive any type of treatment. For many, the idea of having a built-in therapist or app offers the perfect balance of support, security, and autonomy. While studies are showing better outcomes and products are becoming more 'smart' and easy to embrace, three important areas remain important to address:

1. Efficacy
2. Acceptance
3. Security & Privacy, including issues of safety and suicidality.

In research and training, there is a 'need for integration': Engineering, computer science, and informatics. "So what kind of wedding will it be? Fairy Tale or Shotgun?"

[ See these reports from
2011 and 2012 for an overview of psychology's expanding use of technology. ]

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Aaron T. Beck at 93
Aaron T. Beck - 8 August 2014 - Via Skype

Aaron T. Beck at 93

Today we had the privilege of hearing and speaking with the legendary Aaron T(im) Beck, revered as the 'father of cognitive therapy', and widely known for his work with (and scales for) depression, and in recent years expanding the boundaries in which his principles were being successfully applied. Aaron T. Beck, now age 93, joined us via Skype. Moderating the event, as he has on many prior historic gatherings of psychologists - including conversations with
Phil Zimbardo and Albert Ellis - is past-APA President, Dr. Frank Farley.

Dr. Farley began the discussion by asking Dr. Beck what he has been up to in his thinking and interests. Beck replied that first of all he's been energized by some of the work being done with treatment of schizophrenia. For him he's felt the need to shift from thinking about 'treating symptoms' to understanding what underlies some of what meets the eye, in particular the impact exerted by feelings of being disempowered, and of aloneness. What he (Beck) has been embracing as a tool is to address the healthy part by conversation about a 'psychosis-free topic'. You may find that if you "get him onto a psychosis-free topic, he can be just as lucid as the next person." Beck offered a case study of a patient (male) with a fixed idea that he was pregnant. In exploring (through safe topics and building a relationship) Beck found a 'hook' in that the patient became deeply moved as he discussed an important element in his life, his puppy. In brief, the outcome was successful and the man found employment - at an animal shelter!

[The following day Temple Grandin spoke at length about the power of work, of always being busy 'doing things', and taking advantage of whatever there is which both engages and taps your strengths. Echoing Malcolm Gladwell, Grandin spoke of seizing opportunity, and timing, and work, work, work which leads to big successes. Ellis often spoke of this too, while John Beard's 'clubhouse model' and therapeutic communities harness the power of activities and community. The point: 'doing things' you love, and moving forward - a recipe for happier life.]

Beck said that his cognitive and humanistic approach, along with others, are powerful tools. People, he said, are always asking him about ACT, DBT.... He believes that there are many 'brands' out there but across those that are effective, "there is one big theory". For him the key is dysfunctional beliefs, as beliefs guide behavior and our lives. Beck has observed over the years that "for each disorder, there are definite perceptual biases and dysfunctional beliefs" (An example of a perceptual bias seen in paranoia, Beck explained, might be seen in one's reaction to eyes and faces.) So, how to proceed? Beck acknowledged that some of the various techniques which are widely embraced include:

Emphasizing the importance of both the (human) connection and the matching of strategy to situation, Beck described another case in which his daughter (Dr. Judith Beck) had a patient who resisted her. Why? It turns out, when the patient was asked, the reason was "I don't like charts" like the ones he associated with his first therapist (J. Beck). So the solution was to send in a new therapist, and no charts. "Suddenly the patient loves CBT."

Beck used this example to underscore the importance of both sound techniques and therapeutic relationship [as in 'working alliance']. He does not find it productive to have total allegiance to only one school or another. In being an effective therapist, said Beck, "One of the drawbacks is the belief in one approach at the exclusion of others."

Dr. Farley asked if Dr. Beck has been focused at all on PTSD.

Yes, he has, particularly in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, with huge press coverage and questions raised about the impact on children. Beck described some research on children's brains pre and post trauma. From a medical/brain perspective, Beck said there has been some investigation of brain structure and function in response to trauma. In particular the before/after research separated out those who had hyperactive amygdalas (pre-trauma) and those who did not. 'Guess who was the most impaired?' Beck asked. "Those with hyperactive amygdala were most likely to have PTSD."

Another type of predictor has been postulated, that being the absence or presence of 'catastrophizing'. In one experiment, Subjects had been given brain scans, and also took tests which tapped tendency to catastrophize. It turns out that the level of catastrophizing was a better predictor than MRI's as to whom would be most affected by PTSD. "PTSD and Catastrophizing. The intervention is simple: train individuals to restructure events so the effect is not catastrophic."

[Beck asks for audience questions]

Question: What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment?
Beck: "Well, it depends on which phase of my career you ask that question, and I think if you ask me this question 2 years from now I'm going to say I think my greatest accomplishment has been this 'paradigm shift' in the treatment of patients with schizophrenia... individuals with schizophrenia. I think if it holds it's going to be the most enduring accomplishment that I've made."

Question: Any regrets?

Beck (smiling, joking here at first): "I was reading a book about George Bush... [Laughter] 'Can I get back to you later on that?'. [Seriously, "I'd like to answer that!"] I've made many mistakes, but...I think I've been able to capitalize on them. After I'd gone down a blind alley or gone off on a tangent, I found that these mistakes that I made actually were information for me. So... as many people know, I was in psychoanalysis for a long time and I thought that many of the things that I learned, or thought that I'd learned in psychoanalysis, turned out to be wrong. So that, then, stimulated me to think of things that were right. Things were actually the opposite of what I had thought. So, even the time that I spent in psychoanalysis, I think, was not wasted, because it's a learning experience for me.

Question: "Another question from the audience that's pretty relevant to what's going on in the world today... You have written on the topic of hate, have a book on hate, and have written extensively in that area.
What are your reflections on 'promoting peace'?"

Beck: "Well, I think in order to promote peace, you have to understand what causes hate. And one of the regrets that I have is that the book that I wrote called Prisoners of Hate has probably been one of the least-read books that I've written, and yet I think in a way this could be the most important... The problem that I see in terms of inter-group hostility is that you see the same type of biases between groups and between individuals that you see in people with psychiatric or psychological disorders. And so there's a tendency to see the other person - to see the other group - in very negative terms." The image that one has of the other person - and I keep thinking a 'person' because I got the idea of working with couples... [Beck pauses and jokes with Farley about the movement of the web cam] OK, so the big problem is [framing the other as] 'the enemy'. And this occurs whether you're talking about a marriage situation or you're talking about two ethnic groups that hate each other. Each ethnic group has the identical image of the opposite person. They see the other group as malicious, as un-trustworthy, as evil, as manipulative and so on. And the tendency next is to dehumanize, distance themselves from them. And since they see them as evil they get the idea that these other people have to be extinguished; they have to be exterminated. That then, is the essence, to me, of group warfare....

There are people actually, working in Europe, who are trying to ameliorate these kind of group conflicts, to try to get these individuals to see each other as more human... We once did a study of judges and plaintiff lawyers.... It turns out [they] hate each other. The plaintiff lawyers claim that the judges are always trying to give them a hard time and over-ruling them, and the judges feel that the lawyers are being discourteous and so on. And so what we did is, we did a reverse role-play... We had the judges play the role of plaintiff lawyers and vice versa. Afterwards, they would say, you know, the real judge can understand how the plaintiff feels, and the plaintiff lawyer would say 'now I see how the judge feels'.

This kind of role playing was also used successfully by one of my mentees in Northern Ireland, where they were able to get the Catholics and the Protestants to do this kind of reverse role playing. And when they did that they saw the other person in more human terms. So while we do have [hostility towards 'enemies'] we also have a way of correcting these notions. And so what I see in the future is some kind of mechanism will be set up so that people will be educated, or a mechanism will be set up to try to ameliorate this kind of negative casting of the other group. "

Question: What are your thoughts on 'psychology' vs. 'psychiatry'?
Beck: "There's generally NO difference because I talk about 'therapy'."

But historically, "you can go back to the 40's and 50's. For psychology it was just testing. Then came therapy, and psychiatrists moved away. To drugs. Now psychologists want to prescribe." [Fair enough, as it reflects two sometimes-rival groups. Meanwhile, psychoanalysis preceded psychiatry but is now offered or sought by a relative few...] The next shift in the turf wars, Beck speculated, might involve nurse practitioners, and prescribing ... But for Beck, in addition to the specific tools or orientation, the human skills are critically important. More than the specific school or degree. [Dr. Beck is, for anyone who may not know, a psychiatrist with stellar psychological credentials also, but as he just repeated, he most values and identifies with the work of 'therapy'.]

Dr. Farley asked Beck how he manages to keep up his productivity and stamina at his age, seemingly sharper and more active than some 30-year-olds. Beck replied that he enjoyed playing tennis regularly, up until around 3 or 4 years ago. Now he maintains relationships with his former co-players and enjoys getting together just to talk. He discovered new things, such as his co-players' families, illustrating how he has himself re-structured his activities with positive effect. Dr. Farley marveled at how Beck managed to actively play tennis until nearly age 90. With his big smile, Beck replied, "Well, it was doubles..."

Question (Audience) : How have you seen your approach adopted in other parts of the world?

Beck: "Cognitive Therapy can be adapted." He has been working with psychologists in developing countries. "In most places there is a history of psychoanalysis and CT is new." But the history is different, for example, in Moslem countries, where there was no prior history of psychoanalysis.

Question (Farley) : So how are you feeling?
Beck: "I feel good!" It's hot where he is (with family in Tampa, Florida; we can see the ceiling fan overhead) but it is quite comfortable indoors.
Farley: Any thoughts, going forward? [Referring to cognitive therapy strategies]
Beck: No... CT, ACT, it's one thing, called psychotherapy. There are techniques, and we depend on efficacy.

Question: Any additional thoughts on 'therapeutic alliance'?

Beck: "With schizophrenia the important thing is engagement. Engagement is crucial. 'Feeling crazy', 'feeling alone', and secondary: feeling disempowered..... Computer-based therapies seem to work. I do wonder if some patients like the relationship - with the computer. The important thing is action, working together."

Question: Going forward, are there any changes so you would like to see in the BDI? [Beck Depression Inventory]
Beck: That may be difficult in terms of the diagnostic aspects, because of the changes in DSM. With DSM-5 there is "a retrogression in the criteria for depression".

Question: What advice would you offer for new professionals? There are so many journals, for example...

Beck: "If you're going into psychotherapy you don't need to subscribe to everything. Go to events, like APA, and get a 'smorgasbord' of insights." Beck sees many beginning practitioners engage in "technique hopping", "or they grind a technique to death." without variation or specificity to the problem. "CT requires cognitive restructuring", but there are many techniques.

"I think I learn from every patient I treat, everyone I supervise, and even from questions at APA meetings!"

Question: Any last thoughts on treatment, perhaps with schizophrenia?

Beck: "I never liked the 'snake pit' [system which considers] people crazy through and through. We need a more humanistic approach. Schizophrenics can form relationships, they're just like the rest of us, and they can get better!"

And with that, today's session came to an end, after being treated to this shared event, one in which Beck and everyone present agrees, we all learn from each other, including from events such as this.

Aaron T. Beck, at age 93. What a unique and accomplished man, brilliant and grounded in humanism, compassion, and the power of belief.

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Temple Grandin: All Kinds of Minds

[Temple Grandin]

Temple Grandin, Ph.D.

Dr. Temple Grandin is without question a one-of-a-kind learner and teacher, professor of animal science, and chronicler of 'the autistic mind', visual thinking, and the power of both education and vocation. Here she speaks about both, as well as fiber bundles in the brain, animal welfare, and the importance for society itself in recognizing all kinds of (human) minds. Recently having exploded into public celebrity as the subject of an Emmy Award-winning movie, Dr. Grandin has long been the definitive expert on both 'high functioning autism' and 'how animals think'. Psychologists, cattle breeders, and the many people she has inspired, know her for many years of both autobiographical and scientific looks at the thinking of all kinds of minds, both animal and human. A profound influence on my own understanding of autism and Asperger Syndrome, precisely and scientifically explained by someone who knows first-hand - experientially as well as scientifically - Grandin describes autistic thinking clearly and articulately. It is easy to understand why so many people have been fascinated and appreciative of her sharing her life and work. She also makes a persuasive case for 'why the world needs all kinds of minds'.

What follows is a 'virtual', or 'asynchronously live' report from this year's Amerian Psychological Association Convention (August 2014). I tried my best to accurately quote and edit so that will be as much as possible like 'being here'. I've not seen the movie, but can share that since it aired my website has been deluged by requests for Temple Grandin. Having been fascinated by her observations and passions myself, I'm very grateful to Temple Grandin for allowing me to use these visual 'souvenirs' to accompany this report and add to the visual imagery along with her words.

I haven't seen the movie, but like many, I've often drawn on Grandin's original biographical and scientific articles - from her 'squeeze' machine to her aversion to scratchy clothes and her focused but sometimes interpersonally difficult times in school, to her description of 'visual thinking'. I have worked with several autistic and/or 'Asperger' populations, and can relate to the themes here, of 'stretching' the limits of an autistic mind, something mainstream media is spotlighting of late. Dr. Grandin credits speech teachers, teachers, and others who can instill a work ethic via engaging 'all kinds of minds'. Temple Grandin has always provided the best, most precise description of autism, from an autistic person's perspective, and also in working as a diagnostician, providing counseling, or being a sibling or parent. This is especially exciting for me as a psychologist who in fact works with, and has long tried to nurture, 'all kinds of minds'. What follows will, I hope, be as fascinating to you as it was for me, even without the magic of the enthusiasm in her voice (picture a Midwest teacher driving home lessons which she has herself learned) or her ad libbed humor about illogical top-down thinkers, and her charismatic presence. So this is edited but accurate, and linear (for linear thinkers) but with her own words as her own narrative and images, for visual thinkers. .

A great teacher and lecturer, and a renowned plant designer, autism advocate and animal welfare advocate too... Temple Grandin gives us a unique glimpse into what it's like to actually live and experience life through the prism (and spectrum) of autism. Her example and research allow anyone who listens and cares, to better understand autistic thinking and behavior. Dr. Grandin has been inspirational for parents, teachers, brain researchers, and psychologists demonstrating and explaining things, through her eyes. (She's perhaps the world's most well-known visual thinker.) There is often much more going on than what many people think of as "autistic" thinking. Many people envision the extreme end of the severity spectrum, perhaps non-verbal, or with rocking or self-stimulating repetitive behavior. Some 'very autistic people', however, can be 'stretched' and taught rules and find ways to tap into great talents nobody ever knew were there. Yes, there is a spectrum. If anyone on earth can explain autism, visual thinking, brain 'abnormalities', impacts learning and daily life, it is this woman. Here is the world's hardest-working expert on autistic thinking, drawing on personal experience, industrial design, brain scans, research, and what might be called extreme mindfulness, with a special kind of genius and determination and work ethic: The one and only Dr. Temple Grandin.

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"I think I'll start out and just tell a little bit about myself.

When I was 3 1/2 years old, I had all the full-blown symptoms of autism. No speech until 3 1/2 to four.

I cannot emphasize enough, the importance of early educational intervention.
And I got into a really good, early program. And I spent of lot of time with these kids.

I had a great speech teacher. My speech teacher invented Applied Behavioral Analysis in her basement - but she just didn't get any credit for it. [grins]

The other big emphasis was on turn-taking - doing games involving turn-taking. 'Cause you've got to learn to wait and take your turn!.

Now it's been interesting for me for a long time, to learn about how different people think, because when I was young I thought everyone thought exactly like I think. Now the thing is: When does normal variation become an 'abnormality'? There's no black and white dividing line. You now, there's research that shows that people with bipolar in the family have got more siblings in creative careers. Autism: there's more techies.... you know. It's not a black and white dividing line!"

On the importance of work

"Now the thing is, I do a lot of things in the autism community and I also do a lot of things in the livestock community. And I can think of kids that I went to college with that would be called Aspergers today, or autistic, or speech impaired. And they've all got good jobs. And why have they got good jobs?

The other problem is, now with the diagnostics change, what I'm seeing in some states is, now it's this huge 'autism' quagmire, going from Silicon Valley and really smart people, down to somebody that's got a very, very severe impairment. In fact, the Silicon Valley people, they avoid the labels. I also have gone over and I've done talks at gifted conferences. And I'm seeing the same geeky, little nerdy kids! So one kid's going down a very different path than a different kid. But I'm seeing too many kids on the high end of the spectrum getting addicted to video games, not learning any work skills, and ending up on Social Security. And then I go down to the meat packing plant, and there's an old grey-haired hippie, he's my age, and he runs the maintenance shop. And he came straight out of the trailer park. And the thing that saved him was the skilled trades classes.

Taking all these hands-on things like art and band, and all the skilled trades things out of the schools is the worst thing we ever did. It's not the right thing for everybody, but for a lot of people...

[Segue to a slide on the screen, a Time Magazine cover featuring Einstein, and another cover with Steve Jobs]

All right, here are two Time Magazine People of the Year - I think Einstein got Person of the Century. Little Albert here: No language until age 3. And there's a new special edition of Time about [Einstein], and he had a lot of temper tantrums. How about Little Steve Jobs? Well, little Stevie... he was a weird loner who brought snakes to school [and] got bullied and teased in school. Boy, I was one of the people who got bullied and teased in school. High school: Worst part of my life!"

Engagement through Shared Interests

" And what saved me? Shared interests. Getting social interactions with shared interests.
[For me] it was horseback riding, model rockets, and electronics... And these places were refuges away from the teasing. [We have] got to get kids into those sorts of things!

Creative Minds, Autism and Personality

Now I just read a book review about Beethoven. I've got to get ahold of this book, because I think Beethoven probably also was labeled autistic, or Aspergers today. [The review] says that he's a real loner. I haven't read the book yet, I've just read the reviews. I mean, Mozart: He was pretty weird too.

Now I think we need to start looking at personality traits more like a music mixing board. You know... [she gestures, the idea being to simulate being in front of a mixing board with many sliders to raise or lower the level of specific channels] 'More anxious', 'less anxious', 'more visual thinking', 'less visual thinking'.

Context and Perspective - Work and Social Skills - 'Stretching'

The other thing I want to really emphasize, things that helped me.

I was raised in the 50's. Social skills were pounded into kids in the 50's. You were taught to say 'please' and 'thank you'. You were taught 'table manners'. I think today's much less structured society actually herded [sic - hurt?] some of these really smart kids. The other big problem I'm seeing today is kids are not learning job skills.

When I was 13, Mother got me a sewing job that I did with a lady who did freelance sewing. When I was 15 I cleaned eight horse stalls every day and ran a horse farm. And then I was painting signs and sewing, doing carpentry work... When I was in college, working in a research lab where I had to rent my own house.

You see, there's a tendency for a lot of parents to over-protect and coddle these kids. I'll be at an autism meeting and they'll bring little Tommy up, and Mom's doing all the talking. Well, little Tommy needs to start learning how to do the the talking.

Mother had a very good sense of how much to STRETCH me. You've got to stretch these kids just outside the comfort zone. Because if you don't stretch them, they don't develop. I'm seeing too many kids today who haven't learned to shop! They don't [know how to] order food in restaurants. It's absolutely ridiculous.

Visual Thinking and Industrial Design

Now I'm a visual thinker. And this is a great asset in my work designing livestock facilities. In fact, half the cattle in this country, when they go to a meat-packing plant they're handled with equipment that I designed. (And if you want to see that stuff you can go to 'Beef Plant Video Tour with Temple Grandin' and learn all about that. It's available online.)

The work that I do as a visual thinker is a field called 'industrial design'. You see, when a product gets designed, something like an iPhone for an example, every time you look at that interface on your smart phone, that wasn't made by an engineer. That interface came from an artist. Steve Jobs was an artist, the industrial designer. Then the engineers, they gotta make the inside of that phone work. See, this is an example of the different minds working together.

And there's all of my drawings. Now the thing is, when you're a really weird geek, how did I sell myself? I showed off a portfolio of my work. I was very interested in seeing the - oh, I read on the plane, that's all I do on the plane is read: New York Times, Wall Street Journal. I like a balanced approach to the world. [Laughter]

And... an interesting article in there, on art schools teaching entrepreneurship. Because you've got to learn how to sell your skills! And when you're really weird you've got to sell your work and show off your work.

Now I used to joke around that I had a HUGE visual thinking circuit that went deep into my visual cortex. Now I have a chance to go, you know, and have lots of fun and see all the latest brain scanning equipment. You know: 'Voyage to the Center of My Mind'. And I'm really interested in this sort of thing. But I want to emphasize, I am a college professor first. I am a livestock specialist first. In fact, now that things have been getting so much attention, I've actually been writing [and 'upping' ?] the amount of livestock stuff I'm doing. Because I'm getting very concerned that too many of these kids are getting totally fixated on their autism. Yes, it's fine to be into autism advocacy, but I don't think that's the first thing that you ought to be doing. You need to actually have a real job.

Last week I was in Germany...I taught animal welfare ...training for McDonalds, in Germany. In June I went to China. Very, very interesting. Yeah, so we did have a really strange banquet there... And I went to an interesting talk this morning, on creativity, [the one with Tesla, creativity, and 'gross names of food']....

We've got to get these kids in real jobs. We've got Silicon Valley. Woo! They're all on the spectrum. And they avoid the labels. Or maybe he's a famous movie producer.... And another geek is going to the basement to play video games, on Social Security.

One place where my family and my schools drew a line in the sand: I was NOT allowed to become a recluse in my room.

When I was in high school, then boarding school, I didn't want to go to movie night. They gave me a choice. Choices are good. I could be the projectionist or I could sit in the audience. But not going wasn't going to be an option. So I chose to be the projectionist. When I was 15 I was afraid to go to my aunt's ranch. And if I hadn't gone to my aunt's ranch I would never have gotten involved in cattle. And Mother said to me, 'if you don't like it you can stay for only a week'. But she wouldn't let me not go. The week, or all summer. I went, and I loved it.

Motivation, Engagement, and Visual Thinking

... which brings up the important thing: how the kids get interested in stuff.
You've got to expose them to things they can get interested in! And I think this is one of the big problems we've got today, schools taking out so many different activities that could be a basis for careers. You know, like Patrick Stewart, Captain Picard? He came from a very troubled background. He was saved by the school play at age 12. That's what saved him.

So back, to visual thinking...


Yeah, I had a big visual thinking circuit. And, you know, there's some people who have got a bigger one. There's an art professor that's got one that's bigger. But I'm probably in the top 25% for having a great big gigantic circuit that goes from primary data files to pictures - just like Google Images - up to the language part of the brain.

Now auditory, on the other hand...

Auditory Nerve Bundles

These are fiber bundle circuits. I got a little tiny shrimp here. I am NOT an auditory learner. I cannot remember long strings of information. My working memory is absolutely terrible. (And I went to a session this morning: I need working memory for creativity? Yeah, musical creativity yes, but not for visual creativity. Don't need working memory for that.) OK, here's the fiber bundle for 'speak what you see'. This goes from the visual cortex up to the language parts of the brain. This is Walter Schneider's, state-of-the-art, high definition [fiber tracking] imaging....it can track the actual fiber bundles.

That's normal. [Image on screen] Now that's mine:

      High Definition Brain Scan
      I got lots of extra bushes there!

Now the thing is, if we scanned 100 people, let's go to an art school, and scan a bunch of people, and we'll scan a bunch of stock brokers... You know, at what point does extra bushes become abnormal? You know I don't think there's a black and white dividing line. Now I think this has something to do with why, when you give me a key word, pictures come up. But the price I pay for those extra branches is I've got less fibers for bandwidth, for 'speak what I see'.

And I had trouble with speech delays and I have trouble getting my speech out. That's my problem.

All, right, 'what is blue is full of water'.

Temple Grandin's Left Hemisphere
A brain scan reveals asymmetric left-hemisphere functioning.

You can see there that I have an asymmetry.
That wrecked working memory. That wrecked algebra department.
[laughter - she is smiling too, enjoying the audience appreciation of her humor and perspective]

And you get kids that are kind of different. They're going to be good at one thing and bad at something else. And there's way too much emphasis on the deficits and not enough emphasis on building skills.

Teaching and Mentoring Different Kinds of Minds

When I was a little kid - in 3rd and 4th grade, my ability in art was always encouraged. But I wasn't allowed to just draw the same horse head over and over again. I was encouraged to draw lots of different things, because you got to learn to do artwork that other people are going to want. Now, algebra... I'll tell you right now: For most trades, for all the things I'd need, I didn't need algebra. 'So how'd you manage to get to college?' Thank goodness for the educational fad of '66 and '67. Because the educational fad then [in mathematics was focused on] probability, matrices and statistics. And with lots of tutoring I was able to get through. But I get worried we're going to shut out the visual thinkers.

Well, when I was in college I wanted to learn computer programming, and... Bill Gates and I, in 1968, both had access to this state of the art IBM teletype. No punch cards here! Really, really state of the art. I did punch cards later. Lots of fun, mechanical spread sheets. Know why airline boarding passes are the size that they are? They are an evolutionary remnant of the card punching machine. Those cardboard boarding passes? I tell my students that we used to sort boarding passes in a mechanical spreadsheet. They go, 'you did what?!' I say, yup, that was my master's thesis.

The thing is that Bill Gates could do the programming and I couldn't. You see, where I think innate ability makes the biggest difference is on strengths [other than] where you have a really, really great skill, and on something where you have a real disability. I just couldn't get programming. You know, Malcolm Gladwell will say if you have enough practice and enough access to teaching anybody can do anything. Well I'm sorry. I had plenty of teaching, plenty of access. I just couldn't do it.

Individual Specialist Brains

Now this is one of my most important slides. This has the different kinds of minds. I am a Photo Realistic visual thinker, or 'object visualizer'. All my thoughts are in specific pictures. Couldn't do algebra. Totally helpless. Another kind of mind is the more mathematical mind. This is the spatial visualizer. These kids often have trouble with reading. [Yet they may be strong in music or math.]

You see, in the brain, you've got circuits for 'what is something'- that's my kind of mind, 'object-visual thinker'. You also have circuits for 'where is something?', where are you located in space? That's the more mathematical kind of mind. Then you have people [Verbal Facts Language Translators] who can't do drawing. And then you have others [Auditory Thinkers] - I had a dyslexic student who was a pure auditory thinker. I gave her a camera and she couldn't have cared less about it.

Now you want evidence that there really are these two types of visual thinkers? The evidence is in my book, The Autistic Brain. [Grandin apologized for not having copies with her, but noted that this and her other books are available at Amazon.com - Some of her early experiential and theoretical papers are available at templegrandin.com and on this site. Grandin also recommended two resources, 'Evidence for two types of visualizers', Marie Kozhevnikof, 2005; and 'Pet Meta-Analysis of Object and Spatial Mental Images', Angelique Mazard, 2004.] Evidence shows that there actually are two types: object visualizers and pattern-thinking visualizers. 'Pet Analysis', really a great paper.

[Slide: 2 Categories of Mathematicians - citation for image of paper cube: Masha Gessen, Perfect Rigor, 2009.]

OK, just to show you that there's two ways to do the math - there's the verbal way, and visual-spatial. Then you get into the whole issue that they want you to 'show your work'. Well some people don't need to show the work. They just do it. You know, people don't get it, there are really different kinds of minds!

I want to give you a glimpse into the mathematical pattern thinker. This is not MY mind. [Origami Praying Mantis]

This praying mantis is made out of a single sheet of folded paper, no cutting, no tape. And what you see in the background, that is the folding pattern for making this praying mantis. That's extreme origami. Cool stuff here. I also read... both papers yesterday had an article about an origami way of making self-assembling machines. Very, very cool. I read about that on the plane.... [One of her inticrate diagrams appears onscreen momentarily.] I always like to show my drawings off.

Bridge - Painting by Jessy Park   Now here's a picture from Jessy Park [autistic artist]. She's going to have to live in a supervised situation. But she's doing artwork now, professionally. But this talent had to be developed. Because, you know what Jessy Park used to like to draw? Electric blanket controls. (Some laughter, Temple Grandin smiles too). Nobody wants that! (laughter/applause) You've got to work, you know, on using your skill to produce something that other people actually want.

       Grant Marnier Art     Here's gorgeous artwork done by Grant Manier, the Eco-artist. And he's been showing professionally now. And now that he's been out doing professional shows, he's like a new Grant! He used to be really shy before. Now he talks to everybody. You know, people say to me, well, 'How'd you get good with public speaking?'. Doing it. And I'd read my evaluations real carefully. Because when I was in graduate school, I gave my very first talk and I walked out, and that wasn't really very good.

Now, we've got to make sure that when we do accommodations, we do accommodations that enable. You know, letting some really shy kid Skype his school talk? Uh uh. No. You've got to get up and do it in front of real people.

Why We Need All Kinds of Minds

               Part 2: Visual Thinking

               [Fukushima Nuclear Reactor Meltdown]

All right, this is why all you math and algebra fanatics out there need to have my kind of mind. Anybody know what that is? It's not something you want to get close to. It is the remains of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

They made a visual thinking mistake.

I can't design a nuclear reactor. But if I had been the drafting designer drawing up [the plans], I would have been going 'Wait a minute here! The sea wall's breached. This basement full of all of our emergency pumps and emergency generators is going to be full of water.' You know what would have prevented this? Water-tight doors. Regular old submarine, crank-em-shut doors. If they had them, it wouldn't have happened. This is a mistake I would have never had made. I can't design the reactor, but you know, all you math heads, you need my kind of mind too.

Steve Jobs the artist was fascinated with calligraphy, and you know, if he hadn't been exposed to this calligraphy class, probably wouldn't have done what he did. Again this gets back to exposing kids to interesting things. [On screen: a quote.] I like this quote from David Barash [2013], from the Chronicle of Higher Education. He says: 'The connection between Steve Jobs and [says um! for quote mark emphasis] "useless" humanities programs, such as calligraphy, should not be ignored.' You know, there's some people saying, well, you know, these courses are just useless. Recently one of the state governors, I won't say which ... wanted to charge more tuition for the humanities majors than for engineering majors. I don't think that's the right approach... The thing is, humanities - when they're done right - teach important skills, especially if you read the good stuff (not the kind of stuff like 'Airport') ... Again, if you read the real good classics, you know, it helps you understand things, socially. A paper study published in Science there, about that. [Reference on the screen: Literary fiction was more effective than popular fiction - Kidd & Castano (2013), Science 342:377. A second reference is shown also: "For better social skills, scientists recommend a little Chekhov" - Pam Belluck [2013], New York Times ]

The very first work that I did with cattle was to go out to the feed yards, and I noticed that animals notice detail. Autistic minds also notice detail. You see, being a visual thinker helped me in my animal behavior work. In fact...I've written about that in my book, Animals in Translation.

So I noticed that a lot of details that most people don't notice, spook the cattle: things like a hose on the floor, a shadow, a reflection. OK, now that I've told you about this, how many of you noticed that that animal was looking at that sunbeam. How many people noticed that? I want to try to get you to be better observers of visual details.

Animals Watch with their ears

Look at how the zebra and the horse have an ear on each other. And then the other ear is on me. What is your animal doing? Watch for this detail. Animals live in a sensory-based world, not a word world. And I was interested to hear at the creativity talk this morning, that they were talking about more of a sensory way of thinking. Back of the brain, that's where the creativity is.

Now I'm always getting asked: are animals scared of getting slaughtered? Well I found they behave the same way in the slaughter house as they do in the veterinary chute. So I show this picture to my students and I say, 'what can I do to fix it?'. Yeah, they'll notice the chain hanging down there, but they don't notice three guys standing right there where they should not be standing. Now, there's evidence that the language covers up things like visual thinking thinking and mathematics.

Sensory based thinking: Art, Mathematics, and Words. Top down and Bottom Up

'In humans, language covers up sensory based thinking'.

[We know] because there's a certain type of Alzheimer's: Whereas the language part of the brain gets destroyed, art work comes out. And there's a book out right now - I forgotten the name of it - it's about a guy that got bashed on the head in a bar fight and all of a sudden he became a mathematician.

              Van Gogh's Starry Night and Mathematics
And when Van Gogh came to Starry Night, I don't think he realized he did some mathematics in it. Because the mathematicians got a hold of it and analyzed the stripes, and... there were mathematical concepts.

My thinking is bottom up

My thinking is bottom up. Most people think top down. Creative thinking has to be more bottom up. You put the details together to form concepts. Concepts consist according to specific examples, into categories. Everything's learned by specific examples. So you got to get these kids that are tending to become recluses and get them out doing things! Well, part of the reasons they don't like doing things is they get anxious. So you don't want to have surprises. But you've got to stretch! You've gotta stretch. I talked to one mom, her kid went to sleep-away camp, he ended up loving it. I would never have gone into the cattle industry if I hadn't gone to my aunt's ranch.

Teach examples like position words: You've got to use several different examples. In other words, to learn the word 'up'... you know, don't just tie it into one thing. [Examples: Walk up a hill, Lift a cup up, Plane flies up in the air, Put a box up on a shelf]

My thinking is also associative. That was also brought up in the creativity talks. I went to both of them; they were really really good. I took a whole bunch of notes. I'm going to write about it in the autism magazine that I write for, Autism Digest. It's going to be in my column next month. And I'm going to be writing about these talks.

Now, when I ask somebody - most people - to think about 'church steeples', I was shocked to find out that what you get is a vague outline of one. And when I asked an astro-physicist, he saw motion, of people singing and praying. Remember, he's a pattern thinker. I just see specific church pictures - OK, I want to characterize them as New England type, Cathedral Type, Chapel Type... you know, whatever, I can do that.

Now just to show you how sensory-based thinking is very specific: Cattle that are trained to be tame for 'the man on the horse' will freak out and get really scared when they see the first 'man on foot'. You've got to train them both - man on the horse, man on the ground. It's a different picture. That's how specific sensory thinking is.


Now I find when people are trying to diagnose or troubleshoot problems, they tend to over generalize. (I got some more insights this morning at the creativity talk. They were saying top down thinking, if you precede working memory, then it doesn't work so well.)

But people tend to over-generalize. You know, they'll say, oh, 'What would you do for autistic kids in the classroom?' Well I don't know what grade he's in, what kind of problem you are having... Little kids at 3 years old I can give you a canned answer. Once they get a little bit older, they're merging into so many sub-groups... But I find that a lot of people have a hard time categorizing a problem when you're troubleshooting. Like with equipment. Do I have a 'people problem' or an 'equipment problem'? OK, I've got my autistic kid. Have I got a hidden medical problem? (Nice poster up there in the poster room on medical problems and psychological problems!) ....

Top down thinkers tend to over-generalize! And it's been a real kind of revelation for me, you know, to try to fight this kind of thinking.


All right. You know, we looked at a lot of policy stuff, and there's a lot of policy-makers that need to get down there in the field and find out what's actually happening. Programmers have a term called 'dog fooding'. In other words, you gotta use the device that has no software in it. Then you gotta find out whether it's dog food or not, or whether it's any good. I'd love to name a show called 'Undercover Legislator'. We got a real special trailer all set up for you! And you're going to arrive there with your license. And then when you get into the trailer, there's going to be a debit card with about $50 on it, a new Walmart pen, gonna be a car with about 2 drops of gas in it, and you are to report to work tomorrow at Walmart, on check scan, in a really low income area, because I want you to really, really experience some stuff. [Laughter/applause]

Mars Curiosity Team

Now here we are, here's the team that put the Mars Rover on Mars. Got to visit this place. Really, super cool! And you see the guy with the long hair there? He was a theater major originally. Theater major! Then he got [involved with] physics. Well, they're definitely a geeky crowd there!

You know, what would happen to the junior edition of these guys today? Are they going to become video game recluses? Got to control video game playing! And most of these kids are not going into the video game industry. I'm not suggesting banning, but I don't see these kids going anywhere. Some people say 'you're just being an old fogey'. But I'm not seeing these kids having good outcomes.

And the thing I realized is, I come out of the construction industry. For 20 years: Designing stuff, go supervise it being built. In all the major meat packing plants. And when you work in construction, it's all about 'sell it, design it, build it, make it work'. It's all about the project. It's all about the outcome. And that's why we'll see how much that colors my thinking.

What's 'good outcomes' for a kid? You stay out of trouble with the law - and that includes domestic abuse.... And you got to support yourself and not be on social security. And something [above] an entry-level job. That would be a good outcome. That's where we need to be going. This is why I'm really so adamant about the working skills.

                                                                           Object vs. Face Recognition

Now I was more interested in looking at pictures of things than looking at pictures of people, when I laid in the scanner. Now the thing is, we need to have people in this world that are interested in things. 'Cause who do you think made the electric, electrical typewriter? It was Tesla! [applause] He would have been autistic today.

You've gotta stretch these kids!

Another thing I can't emphasize enough is mentors. I had a fabulous science teacher. Let's tap into retirees! OK, the school took out auto shop - 'cause they're totally stupid. Well, let's get a retired person to do a 'Small Engine Repair'. And what's the price.... Come on! Let's just start using some of those resources in the neighborhood. We've got to get some paper route substitutes. How about walking dogs for the neighbors? Museums will take kids as young as 12 to be tour guides. Lots of states will allow safe retail, like working in a clothing store, or shoe store, or something like that, at age 14. [At 16 you can get a work permit in most states.] It lets you work on a lot of the informal things, like farmers markets, maybe at the church, the synagogue or whatever, you set up the chairs every weekend. We've got to get some things that are jobs! "


And that is Temple Grandin's perspective on the value of 'doing things', engaging and drawing out talents, teaching to all kinds of minds, recognizing the importance of engagement and the important roles of brain function, teaching, mentors, jobs, and proper respect for the value (and sometimes genius) in having 'all kinds of minds' working together for the sake of all kinds of human endeavors.

Q & A With Audience

Dr. Grandin remained for the long line of audience who offered thanks, asked for advice (as parents, psychologists, counselors and educators), and to pose for photos (or 'selfies') and sign autographs.

Here's a sampling of the questions and her responses:

Someone asked about promising medications. The main thing is that this is individual, but Grandin has seen good results typically with low-dose use, one promising medication being disipromine. But in any case, medication is generally used minimally for optimal functioning in terms of mood and anxiety. It's individual of course, but it seems to be the case that "visual thinkers tend to be panic monsters." (How's that for a visual image?) For panic there have been promising results involving Omega 3s and exercise. Grandin does 100 sit-ups every night in the hotel, she said.

QU- Any advice for someone's niece, who is autistic, and likes paleantology?
A- Sure, said Grandin. One fourth grade teacher, for example, had a class make a pre-historic tool as an assignment. Maybe such encouragement and opportunity will kindle an enduring passion, as livestock did for Grandin. And it's not only science. Returning to importance of vocational education, she said there are different routes to get into, say, the construction traces. Or, "if you can write code" she sees a huge market need for data miners, who some of the geek world refer to as 'unicorns' because they are so hard to find. Grandin shared that she enjoys reading Business Week while she's flying, as it's a 'fun magazine' in terms of following what's; going on in our economy and business world.

QU- A mother who listened to Grandin encouraging parents to have a child 'tap into the neighbors' to help find suitable activities, or scooping ice cream at the soda shop, whatever, replied that where she lives there aren't really any programs.
A- Grandin asked why people needed programs for things they can do near home.

QU-Someone asked about the additional challenge of 'ADD' as a complication
A- Grandin re-emphasized the virtue of 'doing things' to keep engaged. She'd say to the child,"When I was your age I was busy with my bird kite!" and would look toward shared interests to stimulate both social and work-related skills.

Final Comments:

Dr. Grandin fielded questions about her own life, which has been so well documented. Among other tidbits - many consistent with what she's written about across many years - Grandin shared how she hates oysters, and "I still can't stand scratchy clothes against my skin".

[ For much more biographical material, including her childhood influences and experiences, see her excellent autobiography - written at age 44 - online at
Autism.com ]

In closing, Dr. Grandin re-emphasized several mantras she shares with people with all kinds of minds, her voice strong and passionate, sharing her insights borne not only from brain study, but from a lifetime of experience and observation through the eyes of a visual-thinking 'autistic savant' with interest in cattle and human thinking and behavior. She speaks in the manner of a teacher, and that she is, on the subject of all kinds of minds, and why the world needs to stimulate and appreciate them.

"I want you thinking about doing things", as opposed to being 'a recluse'; promote engagement through shared interests to stretch your skills and experience; and "
Don't become your label".

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2009 Convention Highlights:
Internet: Pathway for Networking, Connecting, and Addiction | Opening | Virtual Psychology & Therapy | Q&A with Zimbardo | Seligman: Positive Education | Future of Internet Media | Sex, Love, & Psychology | How Dogs Think

2010 Convention Highlights:
Online Support Groups & Applications | Evidence & Ethical Practice | Opening Ceremony | Sir Michael Rutter: Resilience
Group Memory | Psychology in the Digital Age | Steven Hayes: What Psychotherapists Have that the World Needs Now



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