Just Give Everyone Beer

Why Psychology Needs to Rely On Something Other than Self-Reports


    This document is in draft status.

    I've wanted to write this for a long time now.  And I suddenly had a minute or two with which to begin writing it.  So here goes.

    I'm watching people on social media claim that all their problems are solved by marijuana (not CBD, mind you) or mushrooms or LSD.  I do not deny that these may show promise as a future treatment for some disorders if they complete the rigorous testing the FDA mandates.  (I am not saying the FDA is a perfect standard to go by, but it is at least relatively reasonable.)

    And it strikes me that so many people will claim that psychedelics solve their problems.  And often, "all" their problems.  This cannot possibly be correct, as there is plenty of science that seems to say otherwise.

    So I thought, what is the root cause of this?  And I think part of it may be the way psychological science, in terms of treatments, seems to rely too much on test subject self-reports.

The Problems with Self Reports

    One of the very first problems I can think of in terms of self-reports of test subjects is the placebo effect.  The placebo effect is the phenomenon whereby people seem convinced that their problems have been solved when they were merely taking a sugar pill or similar inert medicine.  The very fact that it works is the biggest red flag I can think of for why we should not rely solely on client self-reports.  They are useful, and obviously in practice we cannot "stalk" our clients to see if they really benefited or are just self-deceived.  (This is not said to insult anyone, mind you: all human beings are susceptible to this problem.)

    Indeed, the disadvantages of client/subject self-report have already been extensively documented.  (Yes, I linked to Wikipedia: I will submit better sources for this one.)  One of these is that on self-reported surveys, participants are more likely to report what they want to believe rather than what is (see Omrod, 2016, p. 471).

    Another known problem with client self-report is  exaggeration.  This would be when a client says marijuana cures all their problems.  That isn't an exaggeration, as I've heard clients in jail counseling say exactly this.  But my issue here is, if the only metric is that your client feel better, why not give them a card that entitles them to free beer?

    Another problem is priming (see Ormrod, 2016, p. 185).  A client may have friends and coworkers and even people online telling them that a drug solved all their problems.  Let's use anxiety as an example.  The problem is that the drug in question only relieves anxiety temporarily.  There's the initial relief that it provides, but then that wears off, and you have to take it again.  And plenty of clients I've spoken with told me that the anxiety just comes back after a while, especially due to various things like it amplifying their paranoia and/or their concern that if they are caught with their drug of choice, they will be in trouble.  (I submit that this fear of legal trouble over their drug of choice should not be considered the main reason for this paranoia, as plenty of people don't fear such trouble or ignore it and continue to use it anyways.)  This is also related to the problem with the influence of individual expectations and social/cultural influences on the results of using addictive substances (Doweiko, 2015, p. 74).

    Then another problem is confirmation bias: clients who are advocates that their drug of choice be legalized are highly likely to exaggerate or even lie in favor of drug use because they activists (again, see Omrod, 2016, p. 471, 74).  They want it legalized, so they believe that speaking of the detractors of using a drug would undermine their goal of getting said drug legalized.  In fact, most participants, not some learners, have this problem (Omrod, 2016, p. 264).

    Yet another problem with self-report is client forgetfulness, especially with drugs.  Some drugs being tested right now tend to make those who are taking them forget.  How do we know they accurately remembered all the good and bad aspects of using a drug being tested for treatment?

    Even another problem with self-report is that clients on intoxicating drugs of any kind are highly likely to not even perceive the negative aspects of their drug use.  This is precisely because they are intoxicated.  This is a concept in addiction known as blindness to the compound's effects (Doweiko, 2015, p. 9).  Self-reported surveys from clients who are using any substance with addiction potential should already be held in high skepticism, much more when they are inclined to believe it.

    Still another problem with self-report is that clients tend to report on their experiences based on how they feel in the moment of taking the self-reported survey, rather than how it went during their week.  This is another example of the priming effect I wrote about above.