Read: The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt


My Reading Highlights and Notes

INTRODUCTION The Search for Wisdom

This is a book about three Great Untruths that seem to have spread widely in recent years: The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings. The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

While many propositions are untrue, in order to be classified as a Great Untruth, an idea must meet three criteria: It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures). It contradicts modern psychological research on well-being. It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.

We suggested that students were beginning to react to words, books, and visiting speakers with fear and anger because they had been taught to exaggerate danger, use dichotomous (or binary) thinking, amplify their first emotional responses, and engage in a number of other cognitive distortions (which we will discuss further throughout this book). Such thought patterns directly harmed students’ mental health and interfered with their intellectual development—and sometimes the development of those around them.

At some schools, a culture of defensive self-censorship seemed to be emerging, partly in response to students who were quick to “call out” or shame others for small things that they deemed to be insensitive—either to the student doing the calling out or to members of a group that the student was standing up for. We called this pattern vindictive protectiveness and argued that such behavior made it more difficult for all students to have open discussions in which they could practice the essential skills of critical thinking and civil disagreement. Tags: definition

But overprotection is just one part of a larger trend that we call problems of progress. This term refers to bad consequences produced by otherwise good social changes. Tags: definition

Comfort and physical safety are boons to humanity, but they bring some costs, too. We adapt to our new and improved circumstances and then lower the bar for what we count as intolerable levels of discomfort and risk.

Each generation tends to see the one after it as weak, whiny, and lacking in resilience.

To repeat, we are not saying that the problems facing students, and young people more generally, are minor or “all in their heads.” We are saying that what people choose to do in their heads will determine how those real problems affect them.

That means seeking out challenges (rather than eliminating or avoiding everything that “feels unsafe”), freeing yourself from cognitive distortions (rather than always trusting your initial feelings), and taking a generous view of other people, and looking for nuance (rather than assuming the worst about people within a simplistic us-versus-them morality).

PART I Three Bad Ideas

CHAPTER 1 The Untruth of Fragility: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker

This is the underlying rationale for what is called the hygiene hypothesis, the leading explanation for why allergy rates generally go up as countries get wealthier and cleaner—another example of a problem of progress. Developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik explains the hypothesis succinctly and does us the favor of linking it to our mission in this book: Thanks to hygiene, antibiotics and too little outdoor play, children don’t get exposed to microbes as they once did. This may lead them to develop immune systems that overreact to substances that aren’t actually threatening—causing allergies. Tags: definition

Taleb argued that most of us think about risk in the wrong way. In complex systems, it is virtually inevitable that unforeseen problems will arise, yet we persist in trying to calculate risk based on past experiences.

Taleb asks us to look beyond the overused word “resilience” and recognize that some things are antifragile. Many of the important systems in our economic and political life are like our immune systems: they require stressors and challenges in order to learn, adapt, and grow. Systems that are antifragile become rigid, weak, and inefficient when nothing challenges them or pushes them to respond vigorously. Tags: definition

But gradually, in the twenty-first century, on some college campuses, the meaning of “safety” underwent a process of “concept creep” and expanded to include “emotional safety.”

To understand how an Oberlin administrator could have used the word “safety,” we turn to an article published in 2016 by the Australian psychologist Nick Haslam, titled “Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology.”16 Haslam examined a variety of key concepts in clinical and social psychology—including abuse, bullying, trauma, and prejudice—to determine how their usage had changed since the 1980s. He found that their scope had expanded in two directions: the concepts had crept “downward,” to apply to less severe situations, and “outward,” to encompass new but conceptually related phenomena.

Research on “post-traumatic growth” shows that most people report becoming stronger, or better in some way, after suffering through a traumatic experience. That doesn’t mean we should stop protecting young people from potential trauma, but it does mean that the culture of safetyism is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature and of the dynamics of trauma and recovery. It is vital that people who have survived violence become habituated to ordinary cues and reminders woven into the fabric of daily life. Avoiding triggers is a symptom of PTSD, not a treatment for it. Tags: resilient

“Safetyism” refers to a culture or belief system in which safety has become a sacred value, which means that people become unwilling to make trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns. “Safety” trumps everything else, no matter how unlikely or trivial the potential danger. Tags: definition

In Sum

Children, like many other complex adaptive systems, are antifragile. Their brains require a wide range of inputs from their environments in order to configure themselves for those environments. Like the immune system, children must be exposed to challenges and stressors (within limits, and in age-appropriate ways), or they will fail to mature into strong and capable adults, able to engage productively with people and ideas that challenge their beliefs and moral convictions.

Concepts sometimes creep. Concepts like trauma and safety have expanded so far since the 1980s that they are often employed in ways that are no longer grounded in legitimate psychological research. Grossly expanded conceptions of trauma and safety are now used to justify the overprotection of children of all ages—even college students, who are sometimes said to need safe spaces and trigger warnings lest words and ideas put them in danger.

Safetyism is the cult of safety—an obsession with eliminating threats (both real and imagined) to the point at which people become unwilling to make reasonable trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns. Safetyism deprives young people of the experiences that their antifragile minds need, thereby making them more fragile, anxious, and prone to seeing themselves as victims.

CHAPTER 2 The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelings

Beck noticed a common pattern of beliefs, which he called the “cognitive triad” of depression: “I’m no good,” “My world is bleak,” and “My future is hopeless.” Many people experience one or two of these thoughts fleetingly, but depressed people tend to hold all three beliefs in a stable and enduring psychological structure.

Schemas refer to the patterns of thoughts and behaviors, built up over time, that people use to process information quickly and effortlessly as they interact with the world. Tags: definition

Beck’s great discovery was that it is possible to break the disempowering feedback cycle between negative beliefs and negative emotions. If you can get people to examine these beliefs and consider counterevidence, it gives them at least some moments of relief from negative emotions, and if you release them from negative emotions, they become more open to questioning their negative beliefs.

A common finding is that CBT works about as well as Prozac and similar drugs for relieving the symptoms of anxiety disorders and mild to moderate depression, and it does so with longer-lasting benefits and without any negative side effects. But CBT is effective for more than anxiety and depression, including anorexia, bulimia, obsessive compulsive disorder, anger, marital discord, and stress-related disorders. Tags: health

EMOTIONAL REASONING: Letting your feelings guide your interpretation of reality. “I feel depressed; therefore, my marriage is not working out.” Tags: definition

CATASTROPHIZING: Focusing on the worst possible outcome and seeing it as most likely. “It would be terrible if I failed.” Tags: definition

OVERGENERALIZING: Perceiving a global pattern of negatives on the basis of a single incident. “This generally happens to me. I seem to fail at a lot of things.” Tags: definition

DICHOTOMOUS THINKING (also known variously as “black-and-white thinking,” “all-or-nothing thinking,” and “binary thinking”): Viewing events or people in all-or-nothing terms. “I get rejected by everyone,” or “It was a complete waste of time.” Tags: definition

MIND READING: Assuming that you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts. “He thinks I’m a loser.” Tags: definition

LABELING: Assigning global negative traits to yourself or others (often in the service of dichotomous thinking). “I’m undesirable,” or “He’s a rotten person.” Tags: definition

NEGATIVE FILTERING: You focus almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom notice the positives. “Look at all of the people who don’t like me.” Tags: definition

DISCOUNTING POSITIVES: Claiming that the positive things you or others do are trivial, so that you can maintain a negative judgment. “That’s what wives are supposed to do—so it doesn’t count when she’s nice to me,” or “Those successes were easy, so they don’t matter.” Tags: definition

BLAMING: Focusing on the other person as the source of your negative feelings; you refuse to take responsibility for changing yourself. “She’s to blame for the way I feel now,” or “My parents caused all my problems.” Tags: definition

Everyone engages in these distortions from time to time, so CBT is useful for everyone.

Greg’s original realization about cognitive distortions was that just learning how to recognize them and rein them in is a good intellectual habit for all of us to cultivate.

But aggression is not unintentional or accidental. If you bump into someone by accident and never meant them any harm, it is not an act of aggression, although the other person may misperceive it as one.

But it is not a good idea to start by assuming the worst about people and reading their actions as uncharitably as possible. This is the distortion known as mind reading; if done habitually and negatively, it is likely to lead to despair, anxiety, and a network of damaged relationships. Tags: definition

A faux pas does not make someone an evil person or an aggressor.

It is undeniable that some members of various identity groups encounter repeated indignities because of their group membership. Even if none of the offenders harbored a trace of ill will, their clueless or ignorant questions could become burdensome and hard to tolerate.

Note: re “microaggressions”

The concept of “locus of control” goes back to behaviorist days, when psychologists noted that animals (including people) could be trained to expect that they could get what they wanted through their own behavior (that is, some control over outcomes was “internal” to themselves). Conversely, animals could be trained to expect that nothing they did mattered (that is, all control of outcomes was “external” to themselves). Tags: definition

A great deal of research shows that having an internal locus of control leads to greater health, happiness, effort expended, success in school, and success at work. An internal locus of control has even been found to make many kinds of adversity less painful.

In Sum

Among the most universal psychological insights in the world’s wisdom traditions is that what really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves but the way in which we think about them, as Epictetus put it.

CBT is a method anyone can learn for identifying common cognitive distortions and then changing their habitual patterns of thinking. CBT helps the rider (controlled processing) to train the elephant (automatic processing), resulting in better critical thinking and mental health.

Emotional reasoning is among the most common of all cognitive distortions; most people would be happier and more effective if they did less of it.

The term “microaggressions” refers to a way of thinking about brief and commonplace indignities and slights communicated to people of color (and others). Small acts of aggression are real, so the term could be useful, but because the definition includes accidental and unintentional offenses, the word “aggression” is misleading. Using the lens of microaggressions may amplify the pain experienced and the conflict that ensues. (On the other hand, there is nothing “micro” about intentional acts of aggression and bigotry.) Tags: definition

By encouraging students to interpret the actions of others in the least generous way possible, schools that teach students about microaggressions may be encouraging students to engage in emotional reasoning and other distortions while setting themselves up for higher levels of distrust and conflict.

Karith Foster offers an example of using empathy to reappraise actions that could be interpreted as microaggressions. When she interpreted those actions as innocent (albeit insensitive) misunderstandings, it led to a better outcome for everyone.

The number of efforts to “disinvite” speakers from giving talks on campus has increased in the last few years; such efforts are often justified by the claim that the speaker in question will cause harm to students. But discomfort is not danger. Students, professors, and administrators should understand the concept of antifragility and keep in mind Hanna Holborn Gray’s principle: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.”

CHAPTER 3 The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life Is a Battle Between Good People and Evil People

There is a principle in philosophy and rhetoric called the principle of charity, which says that one should interpret other people’s statements in their best, most reasonable form, not in the worst or most offensive way possible. Tags: definition

Tajfel found that no matter how trivial or “minimal” he made the distinctions between the groups, people tended to distribute whatever was offered in favor of their in-group members. Later studies have used a variety of techniques to reach the same conclusion.

Any kind of intergroup conflict (real or perceived) immediately turns tribalism up, making people highly attentive to signs that reveal which team another person is on. … Conditions of peace and prosperity, in contrast, generally turn down the tribalism.

The bottom line is that the human mind is prepared for tribalism. Human evolution is not just the story of individuals competing with other individuals within each group; it’s also the story of groups competing with other groups—sometimes violently.

But being prepared for tribalism doesn’t mean we have to live in tribal ways. The human mind contains many evolved cognitive “tools.” We don’t use all of them all the time; we draw on our toolbox as needed. Local conditions can turn the tribalism up, down, or off.

“Identity politics” is a contentious term, but its basic meaning is simple. Jonathan Rauch, a scholar at The Brookings Institution, defines it as “political mobilization organized around group characteristics such as race, gender, and sexuality, as opposed to party, ideology, or pecuniary interest.” Tags: definition

But how identity is mobilized makes an enormous difference—for the group’s odds of success, for the welfare of the people who join the movement, and for the country. Identity can be mobilized in ways that emphasize an overarching common humanity while making the case that some fellow human beings are denied dignity and rights because they belong to a particular group, or it can be mobilized in ways that amplify our ancient tribalism and bind people together in shared hatred of a group that serves as the unifying common enemy.

Instead of shaming or demonizing their opponents, they humanized them and then relentlessly appealed to their humanity.

Intersectionality is a theory based on several insights that we believe are valid and useful: power matters, members of groups sometimes act cruelly or unjustly to preserve their power, and people who are members of multiple identity groups can face various forms of disadvantage in ways that are often invisible to others. … Our purpose here is not to critique the theory itself; it is, rather, to explore the effects that certain interpretations of intersectionality may now be having on college campuses. The human mind is prepared for tribalism, and these interpretations of intersectionality have the potential to turn tribalism way up. These interpretations of intersectionality teach people to see bipolar dimensions of privilege and oppression as ubiquitous in social interactions.

a variety of theories and approaches flourished on campus in humanities and social science departments that offered ways of analyzing society through the lens of power relationships among groups. (Examples include deconstructionism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, and critical theory.)

Call-out culture requires an easy way to reach an audience that can award status to people who shame or punish alleged offenders. This is one reason social media has been so transformative: there is always an audience eager to watch people being shamed, particularly when it is so easy for spectators to join in and pile on.

Life in a call-out culture requires constant vigilance, fear, and self-censorship. Many in the audience may feel sympathy for the person being shamed but are afraid to speak up, yielding the false impression that the audience is unanimous in its condemnation.

In Sum

The human mind evolved for living in tribes that engaged in frequent (and often violent) conflict; our modern-day minds readily divide the world into “us” and “them,” even on trivial or arbitrary criteria, as Henri Tajfel’s psychological experiments demonstrated.

Identity politics takes many forms. Some forms, such as that practiced by Martin Luther King, Jr., and Pauli Murray, can be called common-humanity identity politics, because its practitioners humanize their opponents and appeal to their humanity while also applying political pressure in other ways.

Common-enemy identity politics, on the other hand, tries to unite a coalition using the psychology embedded in the Bedouin proverb “I against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the world.” It is used on the far right as well as the far left.

Intersectionality is a popular intellectual framework on campuses today; certain versions of it teach students to see multiple axes of privilege and oppression that intersect. While there are merits to the theory, the way it is interpreted and practiced on campus can sometimes amplify tribal thinking and encourage students to endorse the Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

Common-enemy identity politics, when combined with microaggression theory, produces a call-out culture in which almost anything one says or does could result in a public shaming. This can engender a sense of “walking on eggshells,” and it teaches students habits of self-censorship. Call-out cultures are detrimental to students’ education and bad for their mental health. Call-out cultures and us-versus-them thinking are incompatible with the educational and research missions of universities, which require free inquiry, dissent, evidence-based argument, and intellectual honesty.

PART II Bad Ideas in Action

CHAPTER 4 Intimidation and Violence

This is another example of concept creep. In just the last few years, the word “violence” has expanded on campus and in some radical political communities beyond campus to cover a multitude of nonviolent actions, including speech that this political faction claims will have a negative impact on members of protected identity groups. Outside of cultures of safetyism, the word “violence” refers to physical violence. The word is sometimes used metaphorically (as in “I violently disagree”), but few of us, including those who claim that speech is violence, have any difficulty understanding the statement “We should reduce incarceration for nonviolent offenses.” However, now that some students, professors, and activists are labeling their opponents’ words as violence, they give themselves permission to engage in ideologically motivated physical violence. Tags: favorite

This sentence includes fortune-telling, as the students predict what Mac Donald would say. It also includes a rhetorical flourish that became common in 2017: the assertion that a speaker will “deny” people from certain identity groups “the right to exist.”60 This thinking is a form of catastrophizing, in that it inflates the horrors of a speaker’s words far beyond what the speaker might actually say. Tags: definition

We understand why so many students embraced more active and confrontational forms of protest. But because their activism is often based on an embrace of the Great Untruths and a tendency to attack potential allies, and because aggressive protests are often exactly what right-wing provocateurs are hoping to provoke, we believe that many student activists are harming themselves as well as their causes.

The more ways your identity can be threatened by casual daily interactions, the more valuable it will be to cultivate the Stoic (and Buddhist, and CBT) ability to not be emotionally reactive, to not let others control your mind and your cortisol levels. Tags: favorite, health

In Sum

The “Milo Riot” at UC Berkeley on February 1, 2017, marked a major shift in campus protests. Violence was used successfully to stop a speaker; people were injured, and there were (as far as we can tell) no costs to those who were violent. Some students later justified the violence as a legitimate form of “self-defense” to prevent speech that they said was violent.

Hardly any students say that they themselves would use violence to shut down a speech, but two surveys conducted in late 2017 found that substantial minorities of students (20% in one survey and 30% in the other) said it was sometimes “acceptable” for other students to use violence to prevent a speaker from speaking on campus.

The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a white nationalist killed a peaceful counterprotester and injured others, further raised tensions on campus, especially as provocations from far-right groups increased in the months afterward.

In the fall of 2017, the number of efforts to shut down speakers reached a record level.

In 2017, the idea that speech can be violence (even when it does not involve threats, harassment, or calls for violence) seemed to spread, assisted by the tendency in some circles to focus only on perceived impact, not on intent. Words that give rise to stress or fear for members of some groups are now often regarded as a form of violence.

Speech is not violence. Treating it as such is an interpretive choice, and it is a choice that increases pain and suffering while preventing other, more effective responses, including the Stoic response (cultivating nonreactivity) and the antifragile response suggested by Van Jones: “Put on some boots, and learn how to deal with adversity.”

CHAPTER 5 Witch Hunts

Durkheim saw groups and communities as being in some ways like organisms—social entities that have a chronic need to enhance their internal cohesion and their shared sense of moral order.

Bergesen notes that there are three features common to most political witch hunts: they arise very quickly, they involve charges of crimes against the collective, and the offenses that lead to charges are often trivial or fabricated.

To Bergesen’s list we’ll add a fourth feature, which necessarily follows from the first three: Fear of defending the accused: When a public accusation is made, many friends and bystanders know that the victim is innocent, but they are afraid to say anything. Anyone who comes to the defense of the accused is obstructing the enactment of a collective ritual. Siding with the accused is truly an offense against the group, and it will be treated as such.

One of the most brilliant features of universities is that, when they are working properly, they are communities of scholars who cancel out one another’s confirmation biases. Even if professors often cannot see the flaws in their own arguments, other professors and students do them the favor of finding such flaws. The community of scholars then judges which ideas survive the debate. We can call this process institutionalized disconfirmation. The institution (the academy as a whole, or a discipline, such as political science) guarantees that every statement offered as a research finding—and certainly every peer-reviewed article—has survived a process of challenge and vetting. Tags: definition

One of the strongest personality correlates of left-wing politics is the trait of openness to experience, a trait that describes people who crave new ideas and experiences and who tend to be interested in changing traditional arrangements.

Social conservatives tend to be lower on openness to experience and higher on conscientiousness—they prefer things to be orderly and predictable, they are more likely to show up on time for meetings, and they are more likely to see the value of traditional arrangements.

Politically homogeneous communities are more susceptible to witch hunts, particularly when they feel threatened from outside.

Humans are tribal creatures who readily form groups to compete with other groups (as we saw in chapter 3). Sociologist Emile Durkheim’s work illuminates the way those groups engage in rituals—including the collective punishment of deviance—to enhance their cohesion and solidarity.

In Sum

Cohesive and morally homogeneous groups are prone to witch hunts, particularly when they experience a threat, whether from outside or from within.

Witch hunts generally have four properties: they seem to come out of nowhere; they involve charges of crimes against the collective; the offenses that lead to those charges are often trivial or fabricated; and people who know that the accused is innocent keep quiet, or in extreme cases, they join the mob.

Some of the most puzzling campus events and trends since 2015 match the profile of a witch hunt. The campus protests at Yale, Claremont McKenna, and Evergreen all began as reactions to politely worded emails, and all led to demands that the authors of the emails be fired. (We repeat that the concerns that provide the context for a witch hunt may be valid, but in a witch hunt, the attendant fears are channeled in unjust and destructive ways.)

The new trend in 2017 for professors to join open letters denouncing their colleagues and demanding the retraction or condemnation of their work (as happened to Rebecca Tuvel, Amy Wax, and others) also fits this pattern. In all of these cases, colleagues of the accused were afraid to publicly stand up and defend them.

Viewpoint diversity reduces a community’s susceptibility to witch hunts. One of the most important kinds of viewpoint diversity, diversity of political thought, has declined substantially among both professors and students at American universities since the 1990s. These declines, combined with the rapidly escalating political polarization of the United States (which is our focus in the next chapter), may be part of the reason why the new culture of safetyism has spread so rapidly since its emergence around 2013.

PART III How Did We Get Here?

CHAPTER 6 The Polarization Cycle

What is going on? There is no simple answer. In Part III, we present six interacting explanatory threads: rising political polarization and cross-party animosity; rising levels of teen anxiety and depression; changes in parenting practices; the decline of free play; the growth of campus bureaucracy; and a rising passion for justice in response to major national events, combined with changing ideas about what justice requires.

Before we present these threads, however, we must make two points explicitly and emphatically. The first point is that there are different threads for different people. Part of the complexity of our story is that not all of the threads have influenced each person and group on campus equally. … The second point is that this is a book about good intentions gone awry. In all of the six chapters in this part of the book, you’ll read about people primarily acting from good or noble motivations. In most cases, the motive is to help or protect children or people seen as vulnerable or victimized. But as we all know, the road to hell can be paved with good intentions. Our goal in Part III is not to blame; it is to understand. Only by identifying and analyzing all six explanatory threads can we begin to talk about possible solutions,

if we step back and look at American universities as complex institutions nested within a larger society that has been growing steadily more divided, angry, and polarized, we begin to see the left and the right locked into a game of mutual provocation and reciprocal outrage that is an essential piece of the puzzle we are trying to solve in this book.

Issue Polarization FIGURE 6.1. The distance between Republicans and Democrats, on a set of 10 policy questions, has grown very large since 2004. Differences by race, gender, education, and age have not changed much since 1994. (Source: Pew Research Center.)

Affective Polarization FIGURE 6.2. Affective partisan polarization. Americans’ feelings toward their own party have barely changed since the 1970s, but Americans have become increasingly “cold” or hostile toward the other party since the 1990s. (Source: American National Election Study,6 plotted by Iyengar and Krupenkin, 2018.)

From the 1940s to around 1980, American politics was about as centrist and bipartisan as it has ever been.

These four trends, plus many more, have combined to produce a very unfortunate change in the dynamics of American politics, which political scientists call negative partisanship. In a recent review of data on “affective polarization” (the degree to which members of each party feel negatively toward the other party), Iyengar and Krupenkin summarize the change like this:

Prior to the era of polarization, ingroup favoritism, that is, partisans’ enthusiasm for their party or candidate, was the driving force behind political participation. More recently, however, it is hostility toward the out-party that makes people more inclined to participate. In other words, Americans are now motivated to leave their couches to take part in political action not by love for their party’s candidate but by hatred of the other party’s candidate. Negative partisanship means that American politics is driven less by hope and more by the Untruth of Us Versus Them. “They” must be stopped, at all costs. Tags: definition

Americans are now easily exploitable, and a large network of profit-driven media sites, political entrepreneurs, and foreign intelligence agencies are taking advantage of this vulnerability.

The vulnerability comes with an unfortunate asymmetry: the faculty and students at universities have shifted to the left since the 1990s, as we showed in the last chapter, while the “outrage industry” of talk radio, cable news networks, and conspiracy websites is more developed and effective on the right.

In Sum

The United States has experienced a steady increase in at least one form of polarization since the 1980s: affective (or emotional) polarization, which means that people who identify with either of the two main political parties increasingly hate and fear the other party and the people in it. This is our first of six explanatory threads that will help us understand what has been changing on campus.

Affective polarization in the United States is roughly symmetrical, but as university students and faculty have shifted leftward during a time of rising cross-party hatred, universities have begun to receive less trust and more hostility from some conservatives and right-leaning organizations.

Beginning in 2016, the number of high-profile cases of professors being hounded or harassed from the right for something they said in an interview or on social media began to increase.

Rising political polarization, accompanied by increases in racial and political provocation from the right, usually directed from off-campus to on-campus targets, is an essential part of the story of why behavior is changing on campus, particularly since 2016.

CHAPTER 7 Anxiety and Depression

In the new discussions about safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggressions, and speech as violence, students often employed arguments and justifications that seemed to come right out of the CBT training manual.

Twenge finds that there are just two activities that are significantly correlated with depression and other suicide-related outcomes (such as considering suicide, making a plan, or making an actual attempt):

electronic device use (such as a smartphone, tablet, or computer) and watching TV.

On the other hand, there are five activities that have inverse relationships with depression (meaning that kids who spend more hours per week on these activities show lower rates of depression):

sports and other forms of exercise, attending religious services, reading books and other print media, in-person social interactions, and doing homework

Tags: favorite, health

The second reason that social media may be harder on girls is that girls and boys are aggressive in different ways. Research by psychologist Nicki Crick shows that boys are more physically aggressive—more likely to shove and hit one another, and they show a greater interest in stories and movies about physical aggression. Girls, in contrast, are more “relationally” aggressive; they try to hurt their rivals’ relationships, reputations, and social status—for example, by using social media to make sure other girls know who is intentionally being left out.33 When you add it all up, there’s no overall sex difference in total aggression, but there’s a large and consistent sex difference in the preferred ways of harming others. (At least, that was Crick’s finding in the 1990s, before the birth of social media.) Plus, if boys’ aggression is generally delivered in person, then the targets of boys’ aggression can escape from it when they go home. On social media, girls can never escape.

Safetyism also inflicts collateral damage on the university’s culture of free inquiry, because it teaches students to see words as violence and to interpret ideas and speakers as safe versus dangerous, rather than merely as true versus false. That way of thinking about words is likely to promote the intensification of a call-out culture, which, of course, gives students one more reason to be anxious.

So we don’t want to create a moral panic and frighten parents into banning all devices until their kids turn twenty-one. These are complicated issues, and much more research is needed. In the meantime, as we’ll say in chapter 12, there is enough evidence to support placing time limits on device use (perhaps two hours a day for adolescents, less for younger kids) while limiting or prohibiting the use of platforms that amplify social comparison rather than social connection.

In Sum

The national rise in adolescent anxiety and depression that began around 2011 is our second explanatory thread.

The generation born between 1995 and 2012, called iGen (or sometimes Gen Z), is very different from the Millennials, the generation that preceded it. According to Jean Twenge, an expert in the study of generational differences, one difference is that iGen is growing up more slowly. On average, eighteen-year-olds today have spent less time unsupervised and have hit fewer developmental milestones on the path to autonomy (such as getting a job or a driver’s license), compared with eighteen-year-olds in previous generations.

A second difference is that iGen has far higher rates of anxiety and depression. The increases for girls and young women are generally much larger than for boys and young men. The increases do not just reflect changing definitions or standards; they show up in rising hospital admission rates of self-harm and in rising suicide rates. The suicide rate of adolescent boys is still higher than that of girls, but the suicide rate of adolescent girls has doubled since 2007.

According to Twenge, the primary cause of the increase in mental illness is frequent use of smartphones and other electronic devices. Less than two hours a day seems to have no deleterious effects, but adolescents who spend several hours a day interacting with screens, particularly if they start in their early teen years or younger, have worse mental health outcomes than do adolescents who use these devices less and who spend more time in face-to-face social interaction.

Girls may be suffering more than boys because they are more adversely affected by social comparisons (especially based on digitally enhanced beauty), by signals that they are being left out, and by relational aggression, all of which became easier to enact and harder to escape when adolescents acquired smartphones and social media.

iGen’s arrival at college coincides exactly with the arrival and intensification of the culture of safetyism from 2013 to 2017. Members of iGen may be especially attracted to the overprotection offered by the culture of safetyism on many campuses because of students’ higher levels of anxiety and depression. Both depression and anxiety cause changes in cognition, including a tendency to see the world as more dangerous and hostile than it really is.

CHAPTER 8 Paranoid Parenting

When you combine the giant crime wave that began in the 1960s with the rapid spread of cable TV in the 1980s, including news channels that offered round-the-clock coverage of missing-child cases, you can see why American parents grew fearful and defensive by the 1990s. The crime wave ended rather abruptly in the early 1990s, when rates of nearly all crimes began to plummet all over the United States. In 2013, for example, the murder rate dropped to the same level it had been at sixty years earlier. Nevertheless, the fear of crime did not diminish along with the crime rate, and the new habits of fearful parenting seem to have become new national norms. American parenting is now wildly out of sync with the actual risk that strangers pose to children.

The lesson we draw from this brief review of research on social class and parenting is that although kids are naturally antifragile, there are two very different ways to damage their development. One is to neglect and underprotect them, exposing them early to severe and chronic adversity. This has happened to some of today’s college students, particularly those from working-class or poor families. The other is to overmonitor and overprotect them, denying them the thousands of small challenges, risks, and adversities that they need to face on their own in order to become strong and resilient adults.

Paranoid parenting is a powerful way to teach kids all three of the Great Untruths.

In Sum

Paranoid parenting is our third explanatory thread.

When we overprotect children, we harm them. Children are naturally antifragile, so overprotection makes them weaker and less resilient later on.

Children today have far more restricted childhoods, on average, than those enjoyed by their parents, who grew up in far more dangerous times and yet had many more opportunities to develop their intrinsic antifragility. Compared with previous generations, younger Millennials and especially members of iGen (born in and after 1995) have been deprived of unsupervised time for play and exploration. They have missed out on many of the challenges, negative experiences, and minor risks that help children develop into strong, competent, and independent adults (as we’ll show in the next chapter).

Children in the United States and other prosperous countries are safer today than at any other point in history. Yet for a variety of historical reasons, fear of abduction is still very high among American parents, many of whom have come to believe that children should never be without adult supervision. When children are repeatedly led to believe that the world is dangerous and that they cannot face it alone, we should not be surprised if many of them believe it.

Helicopter parenting combined with laws and social norms that make it hard to give kids unsupervised time may be having a negative impact on the mental health and resilience of young people today.

There are large social class differences in parenting styles. Families in the middle class (and above) tend to use a style that sociologist Annette Lareau calls “concerted cultivation,” in contrast to the “natural growth parenting” used by families in the working class (and below). Some college students from wealthier families may have been rendered more fragile from overparenting and oversupervision. College students from poorer backgrounds are exposed to a very different set of risks, including potential exposure to chronic, severe adversity, which is especially detrimental to resilience when children lack caring relationships with adults who can buffer stress and help them turn adversity into growth.

Paranoid parenting prepares today’s children to embrace the three Great Untruths, which means that when they go to college, they are psychologically primed to join a culture of safetyism.

CHAPTER 9 The Decline of Play

In species that are predators, such as wolves, their pups seem to prefer to be the chasers. In species that are prey, such as rats, the pups prefer to be chased. Our primate ancestors were both prey and predator, but they were prey for much longer. That may be why human children particularly enjoy practicing their fleeing and hiding skills.

A key concept from developmental biology is “experience-expectant development.” Tags: definition

Peter Gray, a leading researcher of play, defines “free play” as “activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends that are distinct from the activity itself.” Tags: definition

When asked to select reasons to explain why their children didn’t spend more time on outdoor play, 82% of the mothers chose “safety concerns,” including the fear of crime. But there’s a second reason, a second fear that haunts American parents and children—particularly those in the middle class and above—far more than it did in the late twentieth century: the college admissions process.

But “grit is often misunderstood as perseverance without passion, and that’s tragic,” psychology professor Angela Duckworth, author of the book Grit, told us. “Perseverance without passion is mere drudgery.” She wants young people to “devote themselves to pursuits that are intrinsically fulfilling.”

Of greatest importance in free play is that it is always voluntary; anyone can quit at any time and disrupt the activity, so children must pay close attention to the needs and concerns of others if they want to keep the game going. They must work out conflicts over fairness on their own; no adult can be called upon to side with one child against another.

In Sum

The decline of unsupervised free play is our fourth explanatory thread. Children, like other mammals, need free play in order to finish the intricate wiring process of neural development. Children deprived of free play are likely to be less competent—physically and socially—as adults. They are likely to be less tolerant of risk, and more prone to anxiety disorders.

Free play, according to Peter Gray, is “activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends that are distinct from the activity itself.” This is the kind of play that play experts say is most valuable for children, yet it is also the kind of play that has declined most sharply in the lives of American children.

The decline in free play was likely driven by several factors, including an unrealistic fear of strangers and kidnapping (since the 1980s); the rising competitiveness for admission to top universities (over many decades); a rising emphasis on testing, test preparation, and homework; and a corresponding deemphasis on physical and social skills (since the early 2000s).

The rising availability of smartphones and social media interacted with these other trends, and the combination has greatly changed the way American children spend their time and the kinds of physical and social experiences that guide the intricate wiring process of neural development.

Free play helps children develop the skills of cooperation and dispute resolution that are closely related to the “art of association” upon which democracies depend. When citizens are not skilled in this art, they are less able to work out the ordinary conflicts of daily life. They will more frequently call for authorities to apply coercive force to their opponents. They will be more likely to welcome the bureaucracy of safetyism.

CHAPTER 10 The Bureaucracy of Safetyism

In 1963, Clark Kerr, the president of the University of California system, called the resulting structure the “multiversity.” In a multiversity, different departments and power structures within a university pursue different goals in parallel—for example, research, education, fundraising, branding, and legal compliance. Tags: definition

A less immediately obvious downside is that goals other than academic excellence begin to take priority as universities come to resemble large corporations—a trend often bemoaned as “corporatization.” Tags: definition

Eric Adler, a classics professor at the University of Maryland, distilled the argument in a 2018 Washington Post article. “The fundamental cause [of campus intolerance],” he suggests, “isn’t students’ extreme leftism or any other political ideology” but “a market-driven decision by universities, made decades ago, to treat students as consumers

Even at public universities, 18-year-olds are purchasing what is essentially a luxury product. Is it any wonder they feel entitled to control the experience?

Overreaction and overregulation are usually the work of people within bureaucratic structures who have developed a mindset commonly known as CYA (Cover Your Ass). They know they can be held responsible for any problem that arises on their watch, especially if they took no action to prevent it, so they often adopt a defensive stance.

Young people have come to believe that danger lurks everywhere, even in the classroom, and even in private conversations.

Of course, there should be an easy way to report cases of true harassment and employment discrimination; such actions are immoral and unlawful. But bias alone is not harassment or discrimination.

In 2013, the Departments of Education and Justice issued a sweeping new definition of harassment: any “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct.” This definition was not limited to speech that would be offensive to a reasonable person, nor did it require that the alleged target actually be offended—both requirements of traditional harassment claims. By eliminating the reasonable-person standard, harassment was left to be defined by the self-reported subjective experience of every member of the university community. It was, in effect, emotional reasoning turned into a federal regulation.

In a prescient essay in 2014, two sociologists—Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning—explained where this new culture of vulnerability came from and how administrative actions helped it to grow. They called it -“victimhood culture,” and they interpreted it as a new moral order that was in conflict with the older “dignity culture,” which is still dominant in most parts of the United States and other Western democracies. Tags: definition

This is in contrast to the older “honor cultures,” in which men were so obsessed with guarding their reputations that they were expected to react violently to minor insults made against them or those close to them—perhaps with a challenge to a duel.

They defined a victimhood culture as having three distinct attributes: First, “individuals and groups display high sensitivity to slight”; second, they “have a tendency to handle conflicts through complaints to third parties”; and third, they “seek to cultivate an image of being victims who deserve assistance.”

In Sum

The growth of campus bureaucracy and the expansion of its protective mission is our fifth explanatory thread.

Administrators generally have good intentions; they are trying to protect the university and its students. But good intentions can sometimes lead to policies that are bad for students.

In response to a variety of factors, including federal mandates and the risk of lawsuits, the number of campus administrators has grown more rapidly than the number of professors, and professors have gradually come to play a smaller role in the administration of universities. The result has been a trend toward “corporatization.”

At the same time, market pressures, along with an increasingly consumerist mentality about higher education, have encouraged universities to compete on the basis of the amenities they offer, leading them to think of students as customers whom they must please.

Campus administrators must juggle many responsibilities and protect the university from many kinds of liabilities, so they tend to adopt a “better safe than sorry” (or “CYA”) approach to issuing new regulations. The proliferation of regulations over time conveys a sense of imminent danger even when there is little or no real threat. In this way, administrators model multiple cognitive distortions, promote the Untruth of Fragility, and contribute to the culture of safetyism.

Some of the regulations promulgated by administrators restrict freedom of speech, often with highly subjective definitions of key concepts. These rules contribute to an attitude on campus that chills speech, in part by suggesting that freedom of speech can or should be restricted because of some students’ emotional discomfort. This teaches catastrophizing and mind reading (among other cognitive distortions) and promotes the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning.

One recent administrative innovation is the creation of “Bias Response Lines” and “Bias Response Teams,” which make it easy for members of a campus community to report one another anonymously for “bias.” This “feel something, say something” approach is likely to erode trust within a community. It may also make professors less willing to try innovative or provocative teaching methods; they, too, may develop a CYA approach. More generally, efforts to protect students by creating bureaucratic means of resolving problems and conflicts can have the unintended consequence of fostering moral dependence, which may reduce students’ ability to resolve conflicts independently both during and after college.

CHAPTER 11 The Quest for Justice

there is a window of higher impressionability running from about age fourteen to twenty-four, with its peak right around age eighteen. Political events—or perhaps the overall zeitgeist as people perceive it—are more likely to “stick” during that period than outside that age range.

Today’s college students have lived through extraordinary times, and, as a result, many of them have developed an extraordinary passion for social justice. That passion, which drives some of the changes we are seeing on college campuses in recent years, is our sixth explanatory thread.

Intuitive Justice

Intuitive justice is the combination of distributive justice (the perception that people are getting what is deserved) and procedural justice (the perception that the process by which things are distributed and rules are enforced is fair and trustworthy). Tags: definition

Proportionality is the heart of “equity theory,” the major theory of distributive justice in social psychology. Its core assertion is that when the ratio of outcomes to inputs is equal for all participants, people perceive that to be equitable, or fair. Tags: definition

An early study testing equity theory found that when people were led to believe that they were being overpaid for a job, they worked harder in order to deserve the pay—to get their ratio back into line.

people are much more willing to accept a decision or action, even one that goes against themselves, when they perceive that the process that led to the decision was fair.

There are two basic concerns that people bring to their judgments of procedural justice. The first is how the decision is being made. … The second basic concern is how a person is being treated along the way,

If you want to motivate people to support a new policy or join a movement in the name of justice, you need to activate in them a clear perception, or intuition, that someone didn’t get what he or she deserved (distributive injustice) or that someone was a victim of an unfair process (procedural injustice).

Proportional-Procedural Social Justice

Here’s a definition of social justice that accords with intuitive notions of justice, from the National Association of Social Workers: “Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.” Tags: definition

Using that definition of social justice, we’ll define proportional-procedural social justice as the effort to find and fix cases where distributive or procedural justice is denied to people because they were born into poverty or belong to a socially disadvantaged category. Tags: definition

In our account, proportional-procedural social justice falls entirely within the larger domain of intuitive justice. That doesn’t mean we should discard the term “social justice.” Some injustices based on race, gender, or other factors (and their intersections) are obvious, but others are subtle, and people who do not experience them can be unaware of them (as Kimberlé Crenshaw noted). It is useful to have specialists within the domain of justice research who focus on this subset of injustices. Furthermore, when such injustices are pointed out, members of the majority group are often motivated to ignore or deny them.

Equal-Outcomes Social Justice

When the federal government pressures universities to achieve equal outcomes in the face of unequal inputs, administrators do what they can to protect the institution. That might require them to violate procedural justice, distributive justice, and honesty along the way.

Most people want individuals to be treated well, and they recoil from cases where individuals are treated unfairly in order to bring about some kind of group-level equality. This is why quotas generally produce such strong backlash: they mandate a violation of procedural justice (people are treated differently based on their race, sex, or some other factor) and distributive justice (rewards are not proportional to inputs) to achieve a specific end-state of equal outcomes.

When you see a situation in which some groups are underrepresented, it is an invitation to investigate and find out whether there are obstacles, a hostile climate, or systemic factors that have a disparate impact on members of those groups.

Correlation Does Not Imply Causation

If professors and students are hesitant to raise alternative explanations for outcome gaps, then theories about those gaps may harden into orthodoxy. Ideas may be accepted not because they are true but because the politically dominant group wants them to be true in order to promote its preferred narrative and preferred set of remedies.

Students today are fighting for many causes that we believe are noble, too, including ending racial injustices in the legal system and in encounters with the police; providing equal educational and other opportunities for everyone, regardless of circumstances at birth; and extinguishing cultural habits that encourage or enable sexual harassment and gender inequalities. On these and many other issues, we think student protesters are on the “right side of history,” and we support their goals. But if activists embrace the equal-outcomes form of social justice—if they interpret all deviations from population norms as evidence of systemic bias—then they will get drawn into endless and counterproductive campaigns, even against people who share their goals. Along the way, they will reinforce the bad mental habits that we have described throughout the book.

As long as activists keep their eyes on the two components of intuitive justice that all of us carry in our minds—distributive and procedural—they will apply their efforts where they are likely to do the most good, and they will win more widespread support along the way.

In Sum

People’s ordinary, everyday, intuitive notions of justice include two major types: distributive justice (the perception that people are getting what is deserved) and procedural justice (the perception that the process by which things are distributed and rules are enforced is fair and trustworthy).

The most common way that people think about distributive justice is captured by equity theory, which states that things are perceived to be fair when the ratio of outcomes to inputs is equal for all participants.

Procedural justice is about how decisions are being made, and is also about how people are treated along the way, as procedures unfold.

Social justice is a central concept in campus life today, and it takes a variety of forms. When social justice efforts are fully consistent with both distributive and procedural justice, we call it proportional-procedural social justice. Such efforts generally aim to remove barriers to equality of opportunity and also to ensure that everyone is treated with dignity.

But when social justice efforts aim to achieve equality of outcomes by group, and when social justice activists are willing to violate distributive or procedural fairness for some individuals along the way, these efforts violate many people’s sense of intuitive justice. We call this equal-outcomes social justice.

Correlation does not imply causation. Yet in many discussions in universities these days, the correlation of a demographic trait or identity group membership with an outcome gap is taken as evidence that discrimination (structural or individual) caused the outcome gap. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t, but if people can’t raise alternative possible causal explanations without eliciting negative consequences, then the community is unlikely to arrive at an accurate understanding of the problem. And without understanding the true nature of a problem, there is little chance of solving it.

PART IV Wising Up

CHAPTER 12 Wiser Kids

We therefore offer these suggestions with the caveat that any effort to change one part of children’s lives can produce unexpected effects in some other part. More research is needed, but we think these suggestions are likely to be helpful.

1. Prepare the Child for the Road, Not the Road for the Child

It was foolish to think one could clear the road for one’s child before the internet. Now it is delusional.

In that spirit, here are some specific suggestions for parents, teachers, and all who care for children:

Assume that your kids are more capable this month than they were last month.

Let your kids take more small risks,

Learn about Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids movement, and incorporate her lessons into your family’s life.


Encourage your children to walk or ride bicycles to and from school

Help your kids find a community of kids in the neighborhood

Send your children to an overnight summer camp in the woods

Encourage your children to engage in a lot of “productive disagreement.”

Grant offers the following four rules for productive disagreement:

  • Frame it as a debate, rather than a conflict.
  • Argue as if you’re right, but listen as if you’re wrong (and be willing to change your mind).
  • Make the most respectful interpretation of the other person’s perspective.
  • Acknowledge where you agree with your critics and what you’ve learned from them.

2. Your Worst Enemy Cannot Harm You as Much as Your Own Thoughts, Unguarded

Teach children the basics of CBT.

Teach children mindfulness.

3. The Line Dividing Good and Evil Cuts Through the Heart of Every Human Being

Give people the benefit of the doubt.

Practice the virtue of “intellectual humility.”

Look very carefully at how your school handles identity politics.

4. Help Schools to Oppose the Great Untruths

Homework in the early grades should be minimal.

Give more recess with less supervision.

Discourage the use of the word “safe” or “safety” for anything other than physical safety.

Have a “no devices” policy.

Protect or expand middle school recess.

Cultivate the intellectual virtues.

Teach debate and offer debate club.

Assign readings and coursework that promote reasoned discussion.

5. Limit and Refine Device Time

Place clear limits on device time.

Pay as much attention to what children are doing as you do to how much time they spend doing it.

Protect your child’s sleep.

6. Support a New National Norm: Service or Work Before College

CHAPTER 13 Wiser Universities

1. Entwine Your Identity With Freedom of Inquiry

Endorse the Chicago Statement.

Establish a practice of not responding to public outrage.

Do not allow the “heckler’s veto.”

2. Pick the Best Mix of People for the Mission

Admit more students who are older and can show evidence of their ability to live independently.

Admit more students who have attended schools that teach the “intellectual virtues.”

Include viewpoint diversity in diversity policies.

3. Orient and Educate for Productive Disagreement

Explicitly reject the Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.

Explicitly reject the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.

Explicitly reject the Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

4. Draw a Larger Circle Around the Community

Foster school spirit.

Protect physical safety.

Host civil, cross-partisan events for students.

Five questions alumni, parents, college counselors, and prospective students should ask universities: What steps do you take (if any) to teach incoming students about academic freedom and free inquiry before they take their first classes? How would you handle a demand that a professor be fired because of an opinion he or she expressed in an article or interview, which other people found deeply offensive? What would your institution do if a controversial speaker were scheduled to speak, and large protests that included credible threats of violence were planned? How is your institution responding to the increase in students who suffer from anxiety and depression? What does your university do to foster a sense of shared identity?

Look for answers that indicate that the institution has a high tolerance for vigorous disagreement but no tolerance for violence or intimidation. Look for answers that indicate a presumption that students are antifragile, combined with the recognition that many students today need support as they work toward emotional growth. Look for answers that indicate that the institution tries to draw an encompassing circle around its members, within which differences can more productively be explored.

CONCLUSION Wiser Societies


The beauty of CBT is how easy it is to learn: All you need is pen and paper (or a laptop, or a device with an app that lets you take notes). The specific details for practicing CBT differ from book to book and therapist to therapist, but the basic process is something like this:

  • When you are feeling anxious, depressed, or otherwise distressed, take a moment to write down what you are feeling.
  • Write down your level of distress. (For example, you could score it on a scale of 1 to 100.)
  • Write down what happened and what your automatic thoughts were when you felt the pang of anxiety or despair. (For example, “Someone I was interested in canceled our date. I said to myself, ‘This always happens. No one will ever want to go out with me. I’m a total loser.’”)
  • Look at the categories of distorted automatic thoughts below, and ask yourself: Is this thought a cognitive distortion? Write down the cognitive distortions you notice. (For example, looking at the automatic thoughts in number 3 above, you might write, “personalizing, overgeneralizing, labeling, and catastrophizing.”)
  • Look at the evidence for and against your thought.
  • Ask yourself what someone might say who disagreed with you. Is there any merit in that opinion?
  • Consider again what happened, and reevaluate the situation without the cognitive distortions.
  • Write down your new thoughts and feelings. (For example, “I am sad and disappointed that a date I was excited about got canceled.”)
  • Write down again, using the same scale as before, how anxious, depressed, or otherwise distressed you feel. Chances are the number will be lower—perhaps a lot lower.

Categories of Distorted Automatic Thoughts

  • MIND READING: You assume that you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts. “He thinks I’m a loser.”
  • FORTUNE-TELLING: You predict the future negatively: Things will get worse, or there is danger ahead. “I’ll fail that exam,” or “I won’t get the job.”
  • CATASTROPHIZING: You believe that what has happened or will happen will be so awful and unbearable that you won’t be able to stand it. “It would be terrible if I failed.”
  • LABELING: You assign global negative traits to yourself and others. “I’m undesirable,” or “He’s a rotten person.”
  • DISCOUNTING POSITIVES: You claim that the positive things you or others do are trivial. “That’s what wives are supposed to do—so it doesn’t count when she’s nice to me,” or “Those successes were easy, so they don’t matter.”
  • NEGATIVE FILTERING: You focus almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom notice the positives. “Look at all of the people who don’t like me.” * OVERGENERALIZING: You perceive a global pattern of negatives on the basis of a single incident. “This generally happens to me. I seem to fail at a lot of things.”
  • DICHOTOMOUS THINKING: You view events or people in all-or-nothing terms. “I get rejected by everyone,” or “It was a complete waste of time.”
  • SHOULDS: You interpret events in terms of how things should be, rather than simply focusing on what is. “I should do well. If I don’t, then I’m a failure.”
  • PERSONALIZING: You attribute a disproportionate amount of the blame to yourself for negative events, and you fail to see that certain events are also caused by others. “The marriage ended because I failed.”
  • BLAMING: You focus on the other person as the source of your negative feelings, and you refuse to take responsibility for changing yourself. “She’s to blame for the way I feel now,” or “My parents caused all my problems.”
  • UNFAIR COMPARISONS: You interpret events in terms of standards that are unrealistic—for example, you focus primarily on others who do better than you and find yourself inferior in the comparison. “She’s more successful than I am,” or “Others did better than I did on the test.”
  • REGRET ORIENTATION: You focus on the idea that you could have done better in the past, rather than on what you can do better now. “I could have had a better job if I had tried,” or “I shouldn’t have said that.”
  • WHAT IF?: You keep asking a series of questions about “what if” something happens, and you fail to be satisfied with any of the answers. “Yeah, but what if I get anxious?” or “What if I can’t catch my breath?”
  • EMOTIONAL REASONING: You let your feelings guide your interpretation of reality. “I feel depressed; therefore, my marriage is not working out.”
  • INABILITY TO DISCONFIRM: You reject any evidence or arguments that might contradict your negative thoughts. For example, when you have the thought “I’m unlovable,” you reject as irrelevant any evidence that people like you. Consequently, your thought cannot be refuted. “That’s not the real issue. There are deeper problems. There are other factors."
  • JUDGMENT FOCUS: You view yourself, others, and events in terms of evaluations as good–bad or superior–inferior, rather than simply describing, accepting, or understanding. You are continually measuring yourself and others according to arbitrary standards, and finding that you and others fall short. You are focused on the judgments of others as well as your own judgments of yourself. “I didn’t perform well in college,” or “If I take up tennis, I won’t do well,” or “Look how successful she is. I’m not successful.”

APPENDIX 2 The Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression