STATS ARTICLES 2006

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The Duh Report:
Smarties Stay Sober, Narcissists Crave Fame, Cell Phones Addictive

September 15, 2006
Trevor Butterworth
Research that seems to confirm the obvious has some obvious flaws.

Is getting drunk a sign that you’re a dumbass? According to Reuters, via ABC News it would seem to be so.

“High IQ scores may do more than separate geniuses from those of lesser intelligence, they could also be an indication of [how] much someone will suffer from hangovers.

New research by Scottish scientists suggests that smart people are less likely to repeatedly experience the excruciating headache, nausea, dry mouth and sensitivity to light and sound that can follow a heavy night out… The researchers suspect people with high IQ scores suffer fewer hangovers because they respond better to advice not to binge drink.”

But is the corollary of this correlation – that less intelligent people are more likely to get drunk – merely a matter of comprehension? In other words, would they drink sensibly if only they were capable of understanding health advice?

First, and the most obvious confounding factor, is that alcoholism is not correlated with IQ; indeed, more than a few of the world’s greatest minds were and are habitual drunkards. So in order to bolster the correlation between IQ and binge drinking, we must first account for those who are addicted.

Second, the observation that the causal means by which IQ disarms the desire to get drunk lies in responding “better to advice not to binge drink” suggests a precipitous and therefore incredible decline in intelligence over a small spread of IQ points; health messages decrying binge drinking are, after all, hardly the stuff of philosophy colloquia.

Third, IQ may only be correlated with sobriety based on the fact that the smarter you are, the more challenging your job, and thus the greater economic penalty to having a hangover. This may or may not be invalidated by high stress jobs whose stress factor may induce weekend binging.

Similarly, the less smart you are, the more basic the requirements of the job, and therefore the lower penalty to having a hangover. And, of course, one could argue that there is a far greater rational incentive to binge drink if you happen to do a soul-destroying, meaningless job – especially in the mordant gloom of Scotland.

All in all, this study from Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health raises more questions than it answers, and unfortunately neither Reuters nor ABC asked any of them.

Can you be “addicted” to your cell phone?
Here’s a definition of “addiction” from the consensus document from the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the American Pain Society, and the American Society of Addiction Medicine:

“Addiction is a primary, chronic, neurobiologic disease, with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. It is characterized by behaviors that include one or more of the following: impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and craving.

Now, read this report, once again from Reuters (via MSNBC):

“People can become very attached to their mobile phones and some may even show signs of addictive behavior, a British researcher said on Thursday.

In a study that analyzed how students feel about their phones, David Sheffield, of the University of Staffordshire in Stoke-on-Trent, found that some of their reactions were similar to symptoms associated with pathological gambling…

…Nearly 40 percent of 106 students who answered questionnaires about their attitudes said they couldn’t cope without their cell phone. Ninety percent of the 18-25 year olds admitted they took them everywhere.

But more worryingly 35 percent said they used the devices to escape their problems, 32 percent had made repeated attempts to cut down and 14 percent said they were willing to lie about how much they used them.

Is this really addiction? Wouldn’t, for instance, a much higher percentage of adults in relationships say they couldn’t do without their partners? or that they spend 90 percent of their free time with them? Or that they used their relationships to avoid addressing problems in their lives?

Now try substituting “food” for cell phones. See what we mean?

Everything can be addictive – if you use a loose enough definition of addiction. But on the plus side, cell phones may well provide an antidote to the anomie and isolation of modern life, with its shopworn fabric of community; so, perhaps, it would be better to think of cell phone use in terms of dependence – much in the way people with chronic pain require constant medication to function.

Celebrity is a tropism for narcissists.
One can forgive fine writing many faults, and The Los Angeles Times has a particularly fine story on how a “scientific study” shows that stardom is a consequence of narcissism and not the other way around.

“The study — soon to be published in the Journal of Research and Personality — confirmed that celebrities are more narcissistic than average Americans. And — surprisingly — they seem to start out that way, leading Pinsky and Young to surmise that narcissistic people seek out careers in the limelight, rather than becoming narcissistic when they earn fame...

The average Narcissism Personality Inventory score of Americans — as demonstrated in a previous study — is 15.3 out of a possible 40. Celebrities averaged 17.8. Contrary to what occurs in the general population, women celebrities, across the board, were more narcissistic than males (19.26 versus 17.27). Musicians — who have the highest skill level — are the least narcissistic celebrity group, while reality television stars — the least talented or skilled group — are the most narcissistic.”

These findings may well be But without longitudinal data, we can’t know if the celebrity narcissists in the study started out that way or were changed, to some degree, by the possibility and process of becoming celebrities.