NYC-area readers: take the Center Survey

There’s an issue that’s important to me, but that I haven’t really had much time to discuss here on my blog: safe places to change gender presentation.  I would love it if some day we can all leave our houses dressed as any gender (or combination of genders) we like.  In the meantime, it really helps to have a safe place where people can change gender presentation away from home.

When I first asked about this at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in 2000, I was told that changing clothes in the bathrooms was not allowed.  Things have changed significantly since then.  In 2004, Donna from the My Husband Betty message boards posted that there was an unofficial policy allowing people to change clothes in the “All-Gender” bathrooms on the second floor.  Within the next two years, that policy was made official and the rules against changing clothes were removed from the lists.  I have changed gender presentation several times in those bathrooms over the past three years, and the staff and other visitors have always been perfectly supportive.

This, to me, is one of the most important “transgender community services” that a center can offer.  I hope you will agree with me, and tell that to the Center management when you take their Community Survey.

Blinding me with Neuroscience

Perusing Mark Liberman’s Language Log, I came across a post about an awesome study (PDF).  Yale psychology student Deena Skolnick Weisberg and her colleagues noticed that people seemed to like psychological explanations that contained a certain amount of neuroscience.

Weisberg and her colleagues came up with a list of interesting psychological phenomena.  For each one, they created two explanations: a “good” one corresponding to the usual explanation given, and a “bad” one, which was usually circular.  They found that their subjects (who were not particularly knowledgeable about psychology) were capable of distinguishing the bad explanations from the good ones.

The researchers changed the explanations, adding a few words of neuroscience that was consistent with the explanation.  They were very careful to ensure that it was identical to the explanation given, so that it added no new information.  The subjects who received the explanations with neuroscience were much less capable of distinguishing the bad explanations from the good ones.  Specifically, the researchers write, “the addition of such neuroscience information encouraged them to judge the explanations more favorably, particularly the bad explanations.  That is, extraneous neuroscience information makes explanations look more satisfying than they actually are, or at least more satisfying than they otherwise would be judged to be.”

The study was repeated with students taking an introductory neuroscience course; unfortunately, “a semester’s worth of instruction is not enough to dispel the effect of neuroscience information on judgments of explanations.”  It was repeated again with experts in neuroscience, who were found to be immune to this effect.

The authors conclude, “Since it is unlikely that the popularity of neuroscience findings in the public sphere will wane any time soon, we see in the current results more reasons for caution when applying neuroscientific findings to social issues.”  In other words, be skeptical and try to compensate for this effect.