Sunday, July 13, 2014

Critical Thinking and Objectivity

The scientific method and critical thinking offer some level of objectivity, and as Browne and Keeley (2013) described, the systematic evaluation that is critical thinking, has the potential to produce applicable and useable results.  Researchers may be no more aware of the gate keeping provided by critical thinking than they are of their own biases.  Critical thinking can potentially help individuals question their own thoughts and understand personal biases, which may be an important step in becoming more aware of when these biases intrude and how to more effectively curtail their ability to skew information (Innes & Fraser, 1971).

Browne, M. N., & Keeley, S. M. (2013). Asking the right questions: A guide to critical thinking 9/e (Custom Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Innes, J. M., & Fraser, C. (1971). Experimenter bias and other possible biases in psychological research. European Journal Of Social Psychology, 1(3), 297-310.

The Importance of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is crucial to the evolution of knowledge; it raises vital questions that contribute to the ongoing transformation and expansion of the knowledge base. Without the ability to react with systematic evaluation, the psychological sciences, and all sciences, for that matter, would not be able to produce accurate and reliable information, and would be subject to common conjecture and radically varying opinion (Brown & Keeley, 2013). Critical thinking minimizes the shortcomings of human thinking, such as egocentrism and sociocentrism. It requires thinkers to remain open-minded and skeptical simultaneously, and enables the development of lucid strategies for questioning, observing, and resolving ambiguities. It is a self-corrective thinking process, in which the thinker has the capacity to question his or her own thoughts. Critical thinking limits biased, simplistic, and rigid thinking.

It is important to consider the limitations of information, even that which is scientifically gained; whether it is the diversity or number of participants, the length and location of the study, as well as the manner in which comparisons were made. Even the most conscientiously derived information is gained, at least in part, through processes supported by human nature, which has its inherent limitations. For example, when faced with ambiguities, humans naturally impose their personal perspectives to resolve to the ambiguity ( Brown & Keeley, 2013; Stewart & Bennett, 2006). For scientists, this process of imposition may be so deeply held that it becomes an unconscious bias and an inaccuracy that is difficult to recognize.

In the psychological sciences, as well as for any final or capstone project, utilizing a critical thought process helps ensure a quality standard and objectivity, and prevents bias. Asking the most appropriate questions can act as a grounding force in psychological research, and encourages researchers to make accurate and intelligent statements and realistic and reasonable predictions (Browne & Keeley, 2013). Since research from the psychological professions serves humanity in a variety of ways, and is often the basis of care, treatments, and interventions, the standards and quality of that research must be the most accurate and reliable possible. If a researcher does not question the information itself, and the sources from which it comes, it is likely the final product may be flimsy, illusory, or merely superficial, and without merit where it is needed.

Browne, M. N., & Keeley, S. M. (2013). Asking the right questions: A guide to critical thinking 9/e (Custom Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Stewart, E. C., & Bennett, M. J. (2006). American cultural patterns: a cross-cultural perspective. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

The Chicken and the Egg

I was thinking about the chicken and egg conundrum, and how it relates to the discussion of whether illness comes before depression or vice versa, and I wondered if possibly inflammation comes first.  Medical science tells us that inflammation is the root of most, perhaps all disease.  To add to this idea, I reviewed Filakovic, Bijan, and Petek (2008), which found similar elevated levels of pro inflammatory cytokines in depression and psoriasis.  These authors believed the basis of both disorders was shared inflammatory pathways mediated by the immune system. 

Similarly, Potter and Steffans (2007) found depression was commonly diagnosed in individuals with mild cognitive impairment, which may lead to Alzheimer's Disease (AD).  Maes et al., (2010) found depression was an antecedent to AD.  The similarity is in the Maes et al. explanation that depression and neurodegenerative diseases, such as AD are the result of inflammation that is basically part of the same biological process, along the same inflammatory pathways.  Maes et al. believed the degeneration of inflammatory pathways created a cycle in which neuroinflammation provoked neurodegeneration and created a process by which depression exacerbated the comorbidity, and vice versa.   

This idea of disease-sharing pathways was fascinating to me.  I wonder if comorbidities are not independent occurrences, but rather are two symptoms of the same process, it seems we will have to rethink the idea of comorbidities, such as anxiety and depression (Hirschfeld, 2001).  Rather than treating two diseases or comorbidities, perhaps they will be treated as one degenerative process.

Filakovic, P., Bijan, D., & Petek, A. (2008). Depression in dermatology: An integrative perspective. Psychiatria Danubina, 20(3), 419-425.

Hirschfeld, R. (2001). The comorbidity of major depression and anxiety disorders: recognition and management in primary care. Primary Care Companion To The Journal Of Clinical Psychiatry, 3(6), 244-254.

Maes, M. (2010). An intriguing and hitherto unexplained co-occurrence: Depression and chronic fatigue syndrome are manifestations of shared inflammatory, oxidative and nitrosative (IO&NS) pathways. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2010.06.023

Potter, G. G., & Steffens, D. C. (2007). Contribution of Depression to Cognitive Impairment and Dementia in Older Adults. The Neurologist, 13(3), 105-117. doi: 10.1097/01.nrl.0000252947.15389.a9

Proactive Approaches to Relieving Stress

It is interesting to think about proactive approaches to relieving stress, especially since our society, seems stress-provoking for many, perhaps most individuals. If social context, specifically having a social support system, is as important as many theoretical models propose, learning the benefits of social support as well as how to make the best use of it, seems an important part of intervening in populations who suffer the throes of isolation. An overwhelming amount of research suggests social support predisposes individuals to the most positive outcomes in a wide variety of circumstances (Jason, Witter, & Torres-Harding, 2003; Pakenham & Bursnall, 2006; Schroevers, Helgeson, Sanderman, & Ranchor, 2010). Of course, it would be important to identify cultural and other affects such as biological and neurological circumstances that preclude an individual from utilizing, or even understanding the benefits of social support systems.

Jason, L., Witter, E., & Torres-Harding, S. (2003). Chronic fatigue syndrome, coping, optimism and social support. Journal Of Mental Health, 12(2), 109-118.

Pakenham, K. I., & Bursnall, S. (2006). Relations between social support, appraisal and coping and both positive and negative outcomes for children of a parent with multiple sclerosis and comparisons with children of healthy parents. Clinical Rehabilitation, 20(8), 709-723. doi:10.1191/0269215506cre976oa

Schroevers, M. J., Helgeson, V. S., Sanderman, R., & Ranchor, A. V. (2010). Type of social support matters for prediction of posttraumatic growth among cancer survivors. Psycho-Oncology, 19(1), 46-53. doi:10.1002/pon.1501

Mothers of Developmentally Disabled Children

I find it interesting that 35% of mothers parenting children with developmental disabilities experience intense isolation (Gupta, 2007). Even if the isolation is only perceived, the effects are tremendous and have the potential to cause chronic stress and a plethora of deleterious effects. I also found it compelling that 65% of this population did not experience the isolation and negative effects of parenting children with developmental disabilities. One longitudinal study found no difference in the well being of parents raising children with intellectual disabilities, and that many parents maintain positive perceptions of raising children with developmental disabilities (Mailick Seltzer, Greenberg, Floyd, Pettee, & Hong, 2001). Because of the discrepancy in the experiences of these parents, it seems important to identify the underlying issues that may exist. For example, if lower socioeconomic status exacerbates the experiences of isolation, it would be important to determine what types of interventions may ameliorate these social effects in this particular segment of the population.

As always, when vastly different experiences are reported within a population, it becomes salient to examine the foundational influences. It seems to me that targeting these basic underlying factors may have the potential to produce a beneficial effect on the 35%.


Gupta, V. (2007). Comparison of parenting stress in different developmental disabilities. Journal Of Developmental & Physical Disabilities, 19(4), 417-425. doi:10.1007/s10882-007-9060-x

Mailick Seltzer, M., Greenberg, J. S., Floyd, F. J., Pettee, Y., & Hong, J. (2001). Life Course Impacts of Parenting a Child With a Disability. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 106(3), 265. doi: 10.1352/0895-8017(2001)1062.0.CO;2