Sunday, February 3, 2008

Name That Psychiatric Illogic!

Today's Topics:

1. Name that Psychiatric Illogic! (Chris Dubey)
Date: Fri, 1 Feb 2008 17:28:54 -0500

From: Chris Dubey <>

This is a game I designed to test people's ability to identify common logical fallacies and cognitive biases in psychiatric beliefs. You may distribute it to whomever, as long as you do not claim authorship of the game. People can also add new scenarios to the game or play solitaire. I have published the game to the Web, from which you can print copies of it.

Yours Truly,

Chris Dubey

Name That Psychiatric illogic!

Do you wonder what types of irrationality psychiatry often uses in its beliefs? "Name that Psychiatric Illogic!" is a game I authored, for the purpose of exposing common types of illogic in psychiatric beliefs. I first publicly presented the game on February 1, 2008 at the first meeting of the Connecticut Chapter of the Mad Students Society, an institution that tries to protect and support students in their relationship with psychiatry. In the game, the goal for players is to attempt to identify the logical fallacy or cognitive bias in each of a set of scenarios that relate to psychiatry. To play, first peruse the "List of Types of Logical Fallacies and Cognitive Biases." Then, working on a team or as an individual player, try to recognize the type of illogic in each scenario about psychiatry. You may reread the list of fallacies and biases for help. The Answer Key is at the end. The players with the most correct guesses win!


"List of Types of Logical Fallacies and Cognitive Biases"
Logical Fallacies
A logical fallacy is an irrational type of reasoning, usually one that makes false overgeneralizations that do not recognize the possibility for exceptions.

appeal to authority: Logical fallacy of believing that a claim is true, because the claimer is an expert in the associative topic. This is irrational because even experts can have false opinions.

ad hominem: Logical fallacy of believing that a claim is false, because the claimer is not an expert in the associative topic or the claimer possesses an unpleasant characteristic. The opposite of appeal to authority. This is illogical because a layperson with little knowledge in a topic can still have a true claim about that topic.

argumentum ad populum: Subtype of appeal to authority, logical fallacy of believing a claim is true, because the majority of people believe it is true. This is illogical because the majority of people can have the same false opinion.
misleading vividness: Logical fallacy of believing that a description of a singular, poignant example provides a realistic description of a generality. This is irrational because although a claim can be true about a poignant example, the claim can still be false about other cases.

appeal to emotion: Logical fallacy of believing that the validity of a claim depends on its type of emotional effect. This is irrational because an opinion can cause listeners to feel good and that opinion can still be false. Furthermore, a claim can cause listeners to feel bad and that claim can still be true.

argumentum ad consequentiam: Sometimes a subtype of appeal to emotion, logical fallacy of believing a claim is true because the consequences are pleasant. This is illogical, because, for example, a person’s belief that they are heterosexual can cause them to feel good, even if they are homosexual. Even though the belief has a pleasant effect, the belief can still be false.

straw man argument: Logical fallacy of claiming that all of a person’s beliefs are false, because the person has expressed, or appears to have expressed, a singular false belief. This fallacy can take other forms, but we will not examine those at this time.

Cognitive Biases
A cognitive bias is an assumption that a claim is true, with little questioning.
cultural bias: Assumption that a claim is true, because the claim agrees with the beliefs of the assumer’s culture.
confirmation bias: Assumption that a claim is true, because the claim agrees with the assumer's preexistent belief about that possibility and/or the assumer considers more of the evidence that the claim is true than the evidence that the claim is false.

bias blind spot: Assumption that a claim is true, because of the assumer’s ignorance of their cognitive biases.


"Name that Psychiatric Illogic!"
Goal: Working in teams or as individuals, players will attempt to identify the logical fallacy or cognitive bias in each of a set of scenarios that relate to psychiatry. Each type of fallacy or bias can appear multiple times or zero times.
The teams or individuals tied for the most identifications win!

Let’s begin! Can you name the type of illogic in each of these scenarios? Make a try.

1. Two commentators on a television show are discussing psychiatry. One is a psychiatrist and the other is a layperson. The layperson opines that a psychotropic caused him to gain weight and get diabetes. The psychiatrist declares that the layperson’s belief is false, because the layperson is not a psychiatrist and, therefore, does not possess the expertise to understand the psychotropic. What type of illogic is the psychiatrist using?

2. In a course about politics, Darla and Jon argue about involuntary medication of neuroatypical or “mentally ill” persons. Darla expresses her belief that the involuntary medication alters the biochemistry of the brains of the mentally ill, increasing specific chemicals in the brain that psychiatrists say make people happy. She cites a scientific study that shows that neuroatypical patients who received involuntary medication became more docile and friendly to their caretakers. This pleasant effect, she says, is proof that the medicine increased the specific chemicals in the brains of the mentally ill. Jon disagrees, saying that, instead of the involuntary medication, fear of the caretakers might be the cause of the change in the patients’ behavior. What type of irrationality is Darla using in her belief that the results prove the medicine alters levels of the specific chemicals?

3. At a psychiatric ward, the staff performs involuntary electroshock on ten depressive patients. The staff has read multitudinous reviews in scientific periodicals that state that electroshock always makes the patient happier and, because of those readings, the staff assumes that electroshock indeed causes a lighter mood. All of the patients refuse the electroshock, but the staff forces them to take it anyway. After the electroshock, nine of the patients report feeling happier as a result. Without wondering what else might cause the patients to report a higher level of happiness, the staff believes the patients’ reports, because of the staff’s assumption that electroshock always increases happiness. Later, after the ward discharges the ten patients, seven of the patients report to legal authorities that the involuntary electroshock done to them was a physical assault. When the legal authorities ask why the seven patients were dishonest to the psychiatric staff and said that the electroshock made them feel better, the patients admit that they gave a false report because they were under duress and afraid of more shock if they continued to express their unhappiness. What type of illogic did the staff of the psychiatric ward use in their belief that the electroshock made nine of the patients happier?

4. Carlyle says that every neuroatypical or “mentally ill” person has a tendency to physically harm other people and that all mentally ill people should be confined in asylums. He cites an example of a school shooter with a history of depression. In the example, the school shooter attempted suicide several times, was then involuntarily hospitalized and treated with multiple psychotropics, was released and placed on a regimen of the same psychotropics, later shot and killed several people at his school, and shot and killed himself. Carlyle claims that this example proves that all neuroatypical people are physically dangerous to others. What type of irrationality is Carlyle using in that claim?

5. Anna’s grandmother becomes distraught after the death of her husband. Her grandmother begins to have arguments with people that Anna can not see. Psychiatrists confine her grandmother in a psychiatric ward against her will, saying that her grandmother is psychotic and hallucinatory. Anna says that her grandmother is merely in grief, highly spiritual, and that her grandmother believes she is communicating with spirits and using that to deal with her grief. The psychiatrists are nonspiritual, secular, and believe that trying to talk to the dead is a sign of insanity. Because of their beliefs, the psychiatrists claim that Anna’s grandmother is psychotic. What type of illogic are the doctors using in that claim?

6. A judge is at a hearing to decide whether to implement a municipal program that will test all students in the public school for “mental illness.” Among the proponents, a group of psychiatrists say that the program will help hidden people with illness. Opponents say the test that the program will use is unscientific and has caused inaccurate results in other school systems. The test asks the student to answer questions such as “Have you ever felt nervous speaking in public?” and “Have you ever had trouble focusing in school?” After listening to the arguments, the judge authorizes the program. He does so because he believes that the psychiatrists are experts and, therefore, their opinions in their field must always be true. What type of illogic did the judge use in that belief?

7. A psychological researcher is doing a study about whether homosexual men, heterosexual men, or bisexual men are more productive employees. In the cases of one hundred employees, he finds that the homosexual and bisexual employees took fewer sick days than the heterosexual employees did. The researcher also finds that bosses made more formal complaints about male employees who were not purely heterosexual. The researcher knew that a possible cause of the higher complaints was prejudice against the sexual orientation of the homosexual and bisexual men, but he did not investigate this possibility further because he disbelieved it. The researcher concludes that heterosexual, male employees are more productive than either homosexual or bisexual, male employees, because the researcher is himself bigoted against queers. Although the researcher used a confirmation bias, he also used a type of illogic that ignored his cognitive bias. What type of illogic did the researcher use in his conclusion that the heterosexual employees were most productive?

8. A politician of a minor political party is debating with a reporter about health care. The politician expresses her belief that involuntary medical treatment is immoral and often does not cause the effect the treaters intend. The politician claims that, in the patients who take them, several specific psychotropics increase violence towards others. She cites some studies as evidence. The reporter nods and then recounts how the politician expressed an unpopular opinion last year, that an illegal drug should be legalized for use as a remedy for dementia. The reporter cites many studies that evinced that the illegal drug did not remedy dementia in tests of patients with the condition. Because the politician previously expressed an unpopular and apparently false opinion, the reporter says that all of the politician’s beliefs are false and the public should disbelieve her. What type of irrationality is the reporter using in this statement?
Answer Key
1. ad hominem.
2. argumentum ad consequentiam, appeal to emotion.
3. confirmation bias.
4. misleading vividness.
5. cultural bias.
6. appeal to authority.
7. bias blind spot.
8. straw man argument.