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Psychology

The Coddling of the American Mind

Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff
5
-min read
4/5
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The authors posit that Generation Z (people born in the mid-1990s to early 2010s) have been raised to believe that their feelings are always right, they should avoid pain and discomfort, and they should look for faults in others and not themselves. Haidt and Lukianoff argue that these "untruths" are resulting in a slew of harmful effects on society.

Three Great Untruths

The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.

  • The modern obsession with protecting young people from “feeling unsafe” is, we believe, one of the (several) causes of the rapid rise in rates of adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicide.

The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.

  • Many university students are learning to think in distorted ways, and this increases their likelihood of becoming fragile, anxious, and easily hurt.
  • “Nothing is miserable unless you think it so; and on the other hand, nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it." — Boethius

The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

  • We just don’t feel as much empathy for those we see as “other.” The bottom line is that the human mind is prepared for tribalism.

You will be happier, healthier, stronger, and more likely to succeed in pursuing your own goals if you:

  • Seek out challenges (rather than eliminating or avoiding everything that “feels unsafe”)
  • Free yourself from cognitive distortions (rather than always trusting your initial feelings),
  • Take a generous view of other people, and looking for nuance (rather than assuming the worst about people within a simplistic us-versus-them morality).
Book summary

Politics and Personality

One of the strongest personality correlates of left-wing politics is the trait of openness to experience, a trait that describes people who crave new ideas and experiences and who tend to be interested in changing traditional arrangements.40 On the other hand, members of the military, law enforcement personnel, and students who have organised dorm rooms tend to lean right. (You can guess people’s political leanings at better-than-chance levels just from photographs of their desks).

Polarisation

Facebook and Twitter, make it easy to encase oneself within an echo chamber.

The “filter bubble” — search engines and YouTube algorithms are designed to give you more of what you seem to be interested in, leading conservatives and progressives into disconnected moral matrices backed up by mutually contradictory informational worlds.

Anxiety and Depression

Sean Parker, ex Facebook president and founder, said recently that likes and comments are a social validation feedback loop and that facebook is exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.

Compared to the early 2000s, nearly twice as many teenage girls in the U.S now end their own lives. In the United Kingdom, there is no apparent trend for either gender in recent years.

Jean Twenge (author of iGen) believes that the rapid spread of smartphones and social media into the lives of teenagers, beginning around 2007, is the main cause of the mental health crisis that began around 2011.

When kids use screens for two hours of their leisure time per day or less, there is no elevated risk of depression. But above two hours per day, the risks grow larger with each additional hour of screen time. Conversely, kids who spend more time off screens, especially if they are engaged in non-screen social activities, are at lower risk for depression and suicidal thinking.

For boys, Twenge found that total screen time is correlated with bad mental health outcomes, but time specifically using social media is not.

2012 - 2018

Yair Ghitza and Andrew Gelman found that there is a window of higher impressionability running from about age fourteen to twenty-four, with its peak right around age eighteen.

Important, terrifying, thrilling, and shocking events happen every year, but the years from 2012 through 2018 seem like the closest we’ve come to the intensity of the stretch from 1968 to 1972. And if you are not convinced that the last few years are extraordinary by objective measures, then just add in the amplifying power of social media. Not since the Vietnam War and the civil rights struggles of the 1960s have so many Americans been exposed to a seemingly endless stream of videos showing innocent people—mostly people of colour—being beaten, killed, or deported by armed representatives of the state.

Justice

Intuitive justice is the combination of distributive justice (the perception that people are getting what is deserved) and procedural justice (the perception that the process by which things are distributed and rules are enforced is fair and trustworthy).

Image credits: The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff