The quirks in Ramsey Brewer’s conversation are subtle. The 17-year-old repeats himself from time to time and makes small mistakes in the words he uses. For instance, he says he and his best friend look scaringly, not scarily, similar. He also pauses at odd spots, and for a beat or two longer than most people do. When he’s talking, he makes eye contact briefly but then slides his eyes sideways — or closes them. And his comments swerve in unexpected directions: Asked where he goes to school, he says Boston Latin Academy, but then suddenly adds, “I’m not actually from this state,” even though he and his family have lived in Massachusetts for years.
My reporting and writing on science, health, learning, parenting and other subjects has appeared in many publications including Newsweek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American Mind, Parents, and Redbook. Here are some selected articles ranging from my latest work to a few old favorites.
Thirty minutes and an index card. That’s what clinical psychologist Craig Bryan needs to conduct what he calls crisis response planning with a soldier who is suicidal. “Tell me the story about the day you tried to kill yourself,” Bryan asks. Then he listens and follows up with the type of question intended to build trust and uncover warning signs. “How would you know that you’re getting stressed out?” Planning mode comes next, identifying self-management strategies such as exercise. Bryan also asks about reasons for living. “What is good in your life even though things are bad?” Finally, on the card, a soldier handwrites a “safety net” checklist of emergency resources: a crisis hotline, a therapist, 911, an emergency room.
Last year, a striking video made its way around the Internet. In it, male sports fans sat, one at a time, opposite a female sports reporter who had been the target of abusive, misogynistic tweets. Each man had to read the messages aloud to the woman who received them. One of the few printable examples was, “I hope your boyfriend beats you.” The goal of the project, created by a website called Just Not Sports, was to force the men to experience “the shocking online harassment happening to women in sports day in, day out.” By ripping away the protective anonymity of social media, the exercise drove home the message that if something is too offensive to say face to face, it’s too offensive to type. The men were visibly pained as they read. They squirmed in their chairs. One guy looked like he had been punched in the gut. Every man involved appeared to come away with a better sense of how awful it was to be on the receiving end of such nastiness.
You is one of the most common words in the English language. Turns out you might be using it in ways you didn’t appreciate. Grammatically, you is a second-person pronoun used to refer to someone who is not, well, you. Psychologists who study this call it “the verbal equivalent of pointing to one’s audience.” But you is also a way of referring to people in general, as in “you win some, you lose some.” And a study just published in Science reveals that we use you in that generic way not only to express norms, but also to describe personal negative experiences. Doing so provides psychological distance and helps us find meaning in the hard things that happen to us.
Friendship may sometimes feel complicated, but it turns out that recognizing your true friends can be surprisingly simple. There are some fundamental elements that every close bond — including those with family and romantic partners — shares: To call someone a friend, the relationship must be long-lasting, it must be positive, and it must involve cooperation. That’s the three-legged stool that friendship rests on, say the evolutionary biologists I’ve been reporting on. Similar personalities or a shared sense of humor do matter, but they’re less essential than you might think. Remove a leg of that stool, though, and your “friend” may not be there for you when you need them—and being able to count on someone in a crisis, say the researchers, is the whole reason we have friends in the first place.