Letters

Painful image

I am writing to express my extreme dismay over the cover picture for the September Monitor. As a native New Yorker this image evoked a powerful emotional response that I was not prepared to deal with as I opened my mailbox or saw the magazine sitting on my desk. I actually tore the cover off so as not to have to continually be exposed to the painful memories of that day. However, what horrified me more than the image was that the fact that APA selected this photo for the cover. We as psychologists know how powerful images can be. We also know how these types of images in the media can negatively affect our functioning. In fact, we often tell people to shelter themselves from the media, something I have been doing a lot of this week as I cannot turn on the Internet, the TV or the radio and not be bombarded with images and sounds of 9/11. I am so disappointed that our organization chose to be a part of the mass proliferation of these painful images and certainly would have expected an increased sensitivity to this issue from psychologists. I hope you will take more time to consider the power of the images that you place in the Monitor in the future and remember that psychologist are people, too. All of the negative responses that the public at large has to the media, we have, too.

Shahana Koslofsky, PhD
Beaverton, Ore.

Misleading report

The September article, "Seared in our memories," is disappointing, and worse, misleading, starting with the subtitle, "How well you remember may depend on how directly you were affected that day." There is simply no empirical evidence to support this claim, yet the author cherry picks the flashbulb memory literature to support it. This sensationalist argument suffers from two fundamental problems. First, despite the efforts of researchers quoted in the article (see quotes from both Hirst and Talarico), the author does not appreciate the critical distinction between accuracy and consistency in memory research. Ebbinghaus (1885) demonstrated that forgetting occurs in seconds, therefore, if an experimenter does not have an account of each participant's experience in the moment of a salient event like 9/11, then claims about memory accuracy are invalid. Second, with respect to the role of emotion in memory, evidence that people from downtown Manhattan exhibit greater amygdala activity while recollecting the events of 9/11, than people from midtown Manhattan does not necessarily mean that they have more accurate memory of the events of 9/11. A simpler explanation is that people from downtown Manhattan become more emotional when asked to recall the events of 9/11 than people from midtown Manhattan. For more comprehensive accounts of flashbulb memory of 9/11, and flashbulb memory in general, we recommend Conway et al. (2008) and Kershaw et al. (2009).

Andrew R.A. Conway, PhD
Princeton University

Linda J. Skitka, PhD
University of Illinois at Chicago

Joshua A. Hemmerich, PhD
The University of Chicago

Trina C. Kershaw, PhD
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

Why are we hiding?

I was overall dismayed by the tone and focus of the September article, "Ethically Speaking: Cornered by a would-be patient." While the author acknowledges the importance of kindness and the fact that as psychologists we have knowledge about important issues that people care about, I dislike the idea that we are encouraged to put on our headsets and stare straight ahead or tell people we are "funeral directors" as one psychologist did. Granted, I don't fly weekly, but I think it is an important advertisement for our profession and an opportunity to educate people who are interested about what we do as psychologists. Hopefully, through our training (and possibly our own therapy), we have clear boundaries, but can talk generally about the data when we know it, refer people to appropriate websites for more information or to request a therapist, etc. I think it's critical that we are aware of the fact that this is not a patient, that it is not confidential. Psychologists give talks all the time about our areas of expertise and are encouraged to do so. I am also quite able to say, "It's been nice talking with you. I think I will read my novel now...or get back to work" or whatever.

The New York State Psychological Association, of which I am a member, has a new bumper sticker that says: "For life's challenges, talk to a psychologist." What other profession hides its light under a barrel the way that we do? I do not feel this is a sticky situation and feel quite adept to deal with it and effectively promote my profession.

Chris Allen, PhD
Syracuse, N.Y.

Needed: More student supports

In regard to the article "The crisis on campus," (September, page 18), may I suggest that the increasing lack of social and emotional supports on American campuses is one important factor? My training in suicide prevention, for example, suggests that students most at risk are males who lack adequate social and emotional support, and have lost an important relationship. In these days of open dorms, limited supervision, and free-and-easy sexuality, students like such young men may be at high risk.

I meet an increasing number of parents who keep their young people at home and in community colleges for two years because, the parents say, they are "not mature enough." It seems to me that an unintended consequence of the current college and university culture is that many 18-year-olds cannot handle its demands.

I don't suggest turning the clock back to in loco parentis; that's an exercise in futility. I do suggest that colleges and universities consider the need for student-friendly social and emotional supports, in addition to training in major emotional disorders for counselors and education in signs and symptoms for students.

I hope my colleagues in the universities who study this issue don't wait 20 years for an accumulation of more actuarial data to think about how to meet student needs. Maybe an in-depth multivariate analysis, if they feel the need?

Judith Jensen, EdD
Tinley Park, Ill.

A loss to psychology

Thank you for your fascinating article about Otto Selz's underappreciated contributions to cognitive science ("The little-known roots of the cognitive revolution," September). Based on his empirical research, he was the first psychologist to offer an alternative to the associationist conceptualization of how the human mind works. Instead of viewing human thinking as following a chain of associations — the dominant view in the early period of psychology — he offered a constructivist view in which thinking involves building coherent mental representations, that is, constructing schemas. His early ideas about cognitive construction, schemas and labeled mental connections are all reflected in current work in cognitive science, often without acknowledgment of Selz's contributions. Readers who would like to access Selz's major works in English may be interested in Fridja and de Groot's (1982) edited volume, Otto Selz: His Contribution to Psychology. It is certainly a loss to our field that the rise of Nazism in Europe put a vicious end to Otto Selz's promising career.

Richard E. Mayer, PhD
University of California, Santa Barbara


Please send letters to Sara Martin, Monitor editor. Letters should be no more than 250 words and may be edited for space and clarity.