The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills
An investigative journalist exposes what's wrong with much of today's bestselling behavioral science and its application to social problems
With their viral TED talks, bestselling books, and counterintuitive or hopeful takes on human nature and intractable problems, psychologists and allied social scientists have become the reigning thinkers of our time. Grit and “power posing” promise to overcome entrenched inequalities in schools and the workplace. Positive psychology is engaged to heal veterans of the Afghan war of their trauma. The implicit association test can reveal unconscious biases and reduce racism in police departments and human resources departments. But what if much of the science that circulates in the public realm is dubious or fallacious? What if a long-standing American preference for simplistic self-help nostrums is leading even respected academics and the media astray?
In The Quick Fix, the journalist Jesse Singal examines the influential ideas of recent decades and the shaky science that supports them. He begins with the California legislator who introduced self-esteem into classrooms around the country in the 1970s, and the Princeton political scientist who warned of an epidemic of youthful “superpredators” in the 1990s. Both were cases of a much-touted idea that had little basis in reality, but had a massive impact. Singal also examines the appeal of entertaining lab results and takes on the idea that subtle unconscious cues shape our behavior. As he shows, today’s popular science emphasizes repairing, improving, and optimizing individuals rather than understanding and changing the larger structural forces that drive social ills. Like Anand Giridharadas’s Winners Take All, The Quick Fix is a fresh and powerful indictment of the leaders and influencers who must not be permitted to think our thoughts for us.
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