‘Racist babies’ and other wacky moments from the American Psychological Association

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The American Psychological Association may be losing its mind.

The country’s largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists has a history of coming out with controversial statements and positions that have raised more than a few eyebrows over the years.

Most recently, the organization, which boasts more than 122,000 members, came under fire for booting a Duke University neuroscience professor off its email list for stating that there were only two sexes.

Professor John Staddon was notified of his expulsion via email from Indiana University Bloomington provost Jonathon Crystal, a psychology and neuroscience professor himself.

In response to the ousting, Staddon wrote: “It is sad that an audience of supposed scientists is unable to take any dissenting view, such as the suggestion that there really are only two sexes.”

He added that being kicked off the email list would be “one less distraction” and said, “I think you should really be concerned at Div 6’s unwillingness to tolerate divergent views.”

The APA also created uproar recently after it reported that infants and toddlers could be racist.

Using its research, that would mean that hypothetically, a 2-month-to-1-year-old child is aware of race and can channel the hate to those around him or her.

The report, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, notes that most adults believe talk about race and discrimination should be shelved until a child hits the 5-year-old mark but that waiting so long could cause irreversible damage.

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“Even if it’s a difficult topic, it’s important to talk to children about race, because it can be difficult to undo racial bias once it takes root,” Leigh Wilton, an assistant professor of psychology at Skidmore College and co-author of the study, said. “Toddlers can’t do calculus, but that doesn’t mean we don’t teach them to count. You can have a conversation with a toddler about race that is meaningful to them on their level.”

The study, however, did not address exactly when or how parents should bring up the topic of race.

The APA has also spent a lot of time and money over the years trying to find the “formula for funny.”

“There is a lot of research out there — I found over 4,000 articles, peer-reviewed journal articles, on the psychology of humor,” University of Western Ontario psychology professor Rod Martin said.

The big takeaway according to Martin is the “idea that incongruity, when an idea or an object is out of place, is the heart of humor.”

Other key ingredients for hilarity to ensue? Mental gymnastics and truth.

“The fun of going through mental gymnastics to get to the true meaning of a joke probably accounts for much of our enjoyment of humor,” said David Ritchie, a Portland State University professor, who published a review of the topic in Metaphor and Symbol.

However, if a joke is going for the big laughs, there needs to be some “emotional fire” behind it. Some jokes achieve this by tapping into some uncomfortable or unspoken truth.

“The juxtaposition of the two things often gives people a new insight into a familiar situation,” Martin said.

If the humorless dissection of comedy doesn’t do it for you, the APA also took on toxic masculinity.

In 2019, the association triggered fierce backlash when it issued guidelines that declared aspects of “traditional masculinity” harmful.

The guidelines, which were backed by more than 40 years of research, set off conservatives who claimed men were under attack.

The APA defines traditional masculinity as “a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.”

The guidelines, which were released during the #MeToo movement, claimed boys and men feel pressure to conform to certain aspects of traditional masculinity, which could lead to higher rates of suicide, violence, addiction, and early death. It also claimed that men avoid seeking help because it makes them look weak.

The conclusions didn’t sit well with some.

“Traditional masculinity seems to be, in this report at least, conflated with being a pig, or a creep, or a Harvey Weinstein kind of person,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham said at the time.

Fredric Rabinowitz, one of the lead writers for the guidelines and a professor of psychology at the University of Redlands, claimed critics like Ingraham were “taking a very binary perspective.”

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Jokes and gender aside, one of the biggest scandals the APA has had to endure involved its ties to CIA interrogations following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The APA had issued widespread denials for years on its involvement with the government and claimed its strict code of ethics prevented its members for aiding in the torture of detainees. That lie came crashing down following an independent investigation that found the professional organization had been complicit in the scandal.

The 542-page report issued by former federal prosecutor David Hoffman concluded that APA leaders had “colluded” with the Defense Department and had a hand in the CIA loosening professional ethics and other guidelines that allowed psychologists to participate in torture.

The report ultimately cost three senior officials — Norman Anderson, Michael Honaker, and Rhea Farberman — their jobs, though, at the time, the APA tried to frame the departures as retirements and resignations.

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