Letters

Warm welcomings

THREE CHEERS TO the American Psychological Association for its courage in keeping the convention in New Orleans! My memories of pre-Katrina New Orleans carry images of fabulous food, distinctive music, a vibrant ambience of fun and vitality, and gracious, welcoming, spirited people. Can you tell something devastating happened there? Absolutely.

Everywhere you look, starkly sobering evidence remains. But so does a certain indomitability. You will see boarded-up buildings, abandoned vehicles, homes reduced to heaps of matchsticks, and tired, drawn faces.

Yes, there's profound evidence of tragedy. But New Orleans has survived. The gumbo, the crawfish, the pralines, the beignets, the rollicking zydeco, the sultry jazz are all still right there. And those gracious, welcoming people are more spirited than ever. In their eyes, mingled with the ache, you can read determination, resilience and that same vibrant spirit, forged stronger now by survivorship.

Mickey Crothers, PhD
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire


More on interrogations

I support Dr. Koocher's column concerning the "varied and valued roles" played by psychologists dealing with aspects of interrogation (July/August Monitor).

Many "newsworthy" events occurring in the United States and in other countries over the last 10 to 12 years have increasingly been responded to with highly visible and emotionally charged reactions. Dr. Koocher's column encouraged each of us to evaluate national and international situations and to form opinions based upon thorough and "evidence-based" analyses.

Psychologists (presumably) understand the extreme complexity of human emotions and behavior as well as the multivariate influences extant in most situations. Therefore, it is crucial that we resist the temptation to form or to promulgate opinions based upon a restricted perception or the strong emotionality associated with that perception-understandable though these feelings may be.

The need for a rational and multifaceted analysis of world and national problems in no way minimizes or negates the importance of our emotional responses. In fact, our feeling may help to further inform us or motivate us to action. However, as psychologists we should also know to be cautious, lest our reactions cause further difficulties by blinding us to additional information. Just because something "sounds" positive or helpful or "appears" negative or destructive does not mean that it is. We have all learned the importance of understanding a concept or action based upon a thorough evaluation of all available data before rushing to support or condemn it.

Let us not betray what we know and what we preach.

Virginia M. Philips, PhD
East Wenatchee, Wash.

 

In his July/August column, Dr. Koocher wrote that, "These folks do not seem to recognize the ethically appropriate public interest-oriented roles in which psychologists routinely interview people who may feel more or less coerced."

I'm one of "these folks" who objects to APA's position on psychologists consulting in the interrogation of detainees in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-administered overseas facilities. As a forensic psychologist, I am indeed aware of the ethically appropriate role of coerced evaluation and have often performed such evaluations. The difference is that individuals receiving my services have full legal representation.

A writer of Dr. Koocher's intelligence surely realizes that many who object to APA's position understand the nuances. We object because detainees in Guantanamo do not have adequate legal representation, because the legitimacy of such facilities has been questioned by the international community, and because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that detainees in Guantanamo should be represented in regular U.S. courts.

Dr. Koocher continues by suggesting that psychologists help lessen injury to such detainees and concludes that our collective safety has been enhanced. These conclusions are debatable, but even if true, when it comes to violating human rights, the ends do not justify the means.

The "little" APA-the American Psychiatric Association-continues to hold that: "Ethical considerations in medical practice preclude the psychiatric evaluation of any person charged with criminal acts prior to access to, or availability of, legal counsel." Would that our APA were as big and as strong.

Marcus C. Tye, PhD
Dowling College
Oakdale, N.Y.

 

Given the recent ruling of the Supreme Court on the rights of detainees to be afforded the guarantees of the Geneva Convention, I am wondering if it might now be possible for the president of APA to address the question of psychologists' participation in interrogations in a more rational and considered manner than his July/August column.

Dr. Koocher's essay includes the alarming idea that the "use of such strategies hardly constitute a recent development and did not originate as the ideas of psychologists." That such an accounting of our activities (he was referring to "sleep deprivation, social isolation, extreme temperature changes or degrading and embarrassing interventions") constitutes the APA president's considered understanding of ethical practice really must be unacceptable to the membership of APA.

Dr. Koocher spins a rather bizarre example of psychologists in the military. We are provided with the height and weight of the policewoman involved and the prisoner is portrayed as a less-than-human, violent "other." This is rhetoric not reason.

It is likely that a reasoned and ethically informed discussion of the role of psychologists in interrogation will need to take both a historical perspective and a clear-eyed look at the present. For those of us arguing for dialogue and clarity in our public policy on the conduct of psychologists at Guantanamo, much is at stake: the integrity of our profession and human rights, which must be extended to even our most demonized enemies.

Adrienne Harris, PhD
New York, N.Y.


An overgeneralization?

The brief "Aspiring Military Leaders Share Certain Positive Qualities" (July/August Monitor) reported that West Point freshmen and Royal Norwegian Army cadets scored higher than U.S. civilians on areas of honesty, hope, bravery, industry and teamwork.

The findings are not surprising due to the demand characteristics present when young people in military academies are asked by the military to answer questions like "I never quit a task before it is done." Not to mention, I would guess that the students were screened/interviewed prior to acceptance for those kinds of personality qualities. One can conclude that the U.S. military is doing a good job of selecting people who have the U.S. Army doctrine's core qualities.

More concerning though, the article states that "Previously, researchers had not yet shown that effective leaders possess these characteristics." Well, this research has not demonstrated that either, unless one assumes that all of those accepted into West Point are or are guaranteed to be effective leaders. If the study had looked at actual successful leaders, with demonstrated records, then perhaps such a conclusion could be discussed.

One cannot extrapolate that this is some sort of "model" that can be used for police, firefighters or EMT recruitment because the researchers did not demonstrate that the military participants were more successful than the civilian participants in leadership, coping with stress or fulfilling the duties required of a soldier. I think, as psychologists and researchers, it is important to not overstate or generalize beyond what the present data actually reveal.

Deanna D. Caputo, PhD
Washington, D.C.

RESPONSE FROM THE STUDY AUTHOR:

Dr. Caputo is quite right in pointing out the limited generalizations possible from the descriptive study summarized in "Aspiring Military Leaders Share Certain Positive Qualities." It is difficult, of course, to capture all the nuances of a lengthy study in such a short format. In the full text article, I believe we are sufficiently cautious in generalizing from a study based on this particular design. That is up to the reader to decide. Clearly, additional research, using more powerful designs, is warranted. I hope Dr. Caputo's comments will stimulate others to read the complete text of the article and perhaps pursue such research, both in the military context and in other domains.

In the long run, I am interested in understanding how objective measures of character strengths relate to exceptional performance in exceptional circumstances. Do such character strengths as spirituality, optimism or courage interact with situational demands to influence adaptation and performance? As a partial approach to such questions, we are currently analyzing three large (N>1,200) cohorts of West Point cadets, linking variations in character strengths to "hard" outcome criteria, including retention, academic and military grades, and physical fitness ratings. Other work aims to identify the character strengths soldiers rely on in combat. The samples are clearly not representative of the general population, but may provide a window into how human strengths, virtues and excellence promote human potential-especially in ostensibly difficult settings-and this may ultimately improve our understanding of the engaged, meaningful life for us all.

Michael D. Matthews, PhD
United State Military Academy
West Point, N.Y.