Awarding laughter… check out these past Ig Nobel Prize winners.
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
We are in the midst of the Jewish Days of Awe, generally felt to be the most serious time of the year when we are supposed to psychologically and spiritually try to turn toward the best of ourselves in the hope of being put into the Book of Life for next year. This year, the Ig Noble Prizes happened to be awarded the day before those awesome days started with Rosh Hashanah. Perhaps the timing was helpful for some as the intended humor provided a brief break from the seriousness of the time. Or is it the other way around?
Started in 1991, each year 10 awards are given for those real research achievements that “first make people laugh,” and then think.” The cosponsor is the Annals of Improbable Research.
For the last couple of years, I chose some that seemed to have some relationship to psychiatry and our times.
1. In this older study, Milgram and colleagues did an experiment that took place on a street to test how many passersby stopped to look upward when they saw strangers do so.1 The results? The bigger the crowd, the more individuals looked up.
Now, if you recall some of Milgram’s other earlier research, they confirm that most will inflict pain on subjects when told to do so gradually by authority figures. Think Holocaust. Think Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Think bullies.
2. This study looked at an algorithm to help gossipers decide when to tell the truth.2 This is surely a relevant study in our politically divisive time, no?
3. This study wondered whether humans evolved beards to protect their faces from punches.3 The results? Yes, beards could function a bit like lions’ manes in a fistfight.
Are these examples mainly silly or serious at their core? Following leaders without much thought seems increasingly dangerous, does it not? Why and how patients agree with their therapists relates to that tendency, it seems. Perhaps we will cover more of these awards from the past.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry, and is now in retirement and refirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.
1. Milgram S, Bickman L, Berkowtiz L. Note on the drawing power of crowds of different size. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1969;13(2):79-82.
2. Wu J, Számadó S, Barclay P, et al. Honesty and dishonesty in gossip strategies: a fitness interdependence study. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2021;376(1838):20200300.
3. Besaris EA, Naleway SE, Carrier DR. Impact protection potential of mammalian hair: testing the pugilism hypothesis for the evolution of human facial hair. Integr Org Biol. 2020;2(1):obaa005.