Argh. A few days ago I saw this sensational headline on Strollerderby: Psychology Today: Crying-it-out Can Cause Lasting Anxiety.
I thought to myself, “Hmm, I guess a psychologist published a study comparing children whose parents allowed them to ‘cry it out’ to those who did not.”
I assure you this was only short-term neglect. I made up for it later with kisses and breast milk.
I read the Strollerderby piece and while it included an excerpt of the article, there was no mention of the study design or data collected. However, the piece did say,
In the new issue of Psychology Today, Associate Professor of Psychology at Notre Dame, Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D., writes about the dangers of letting a baby “cry it out.”… Narvaez challenges the claims of the cry-it-out advocates with new research about how baby’s brains work. (Source)
Since the Strollerderby piece mentioned this ‘new research,’ by a bonafide PhD no less (!), in Psychology Today, I looked up what I expected to be a research article.
What did I find? Well, first, Pyschology Today isn’t a scientific journal at all. It’s a magazine full of news magazine type articles and blog posts! Nothing peer reviewed about it. According to their website:
Psychology Today is devoted exclusively to everybody’s favorite subject: ourselves. Founded in 1967, Psychology Today covers all aspects of human behavior and mental health, from the workings of the mind to the bonds between people and the larger cultural forces that drive our most intimate decisions.
Here at PsychologyToday.com we have invited the leading academics, clinicians and authors in our field to contribute their thoughts and ideas in the form of blogs — there are currently over 750 of them. The accumulated knowledge bank represents the largest archive of its kind in the world. (Source)
So, PsychologyToday.com published blog posts. Dr. Narvaes’ blog is called “Moral Landscapes.”
According to the site, “Moral Lanscapes” is a BLOG (like this one), not a journal publication, not subject to peer review. The blogger, Dr. Narvaez says:
The Moral Landscapes blog is typically about conveying to the public research findings related to moral functioning and living a good life. Sometimes I muse on things that I puzzle about (politics). I am very concerned about how much our society doesn’t seem to know about how to raise good, healthy and happy children, so I spend a great deal of time on parenting and other issues related to moral and virtue development. I also write about things that I am working on myself–the endless quest for virtue! (Source)
OK. So this ‘article’ cited by Strollerderby really is just a post by a psychologist on her blog where she posts muses on things and attempts to convey research findings to the public. Not exactly the journal article I was expecting, more like the opining I would avoid.
The “new research” mentioned in the Strollerderby article, I couldn’t find it. Other than citing her own book, which is currently in press so I can’t see what sources the book cites, the most recent source cited in the blog post “Sample References” is a piece from the World Health Organization published in 2008 (and Dr. Narvaez does not link to the source). Not exactly up to the minute information.
So, yes, Dr. Narvaez cited some sources, perhaps some are relevant- I doubt the Strollerderby author or any of its readers (except for me?) would bother to check them. However, from her explanation in the text she makes no reference to any study that directly compared children whose parents used ‘cry it out’ versus those who did not. Instead, she says, “There are many longterm effects of undercare or need-neglect in babies (e.g., Dawson et al., 2000).”
I’m certain that longterm neglect and lack of care is devastating to babies. I don’t think that most parents’ implementation of sleep training would constitute longterm neglect. Most parents who even know what ‘sleep training’ means are probably well-informed enough to have read up on infant sleep patterns, love their children, and are quite nurturing.
Comparing ‘cry it out’ to long-term neglect is like comparing sending a kid to bed without dinner for not eating what was served to starvation.
Letting a baby cry it out, or using the Ferber Method doesn’t equate with neglect. Whether you think it’s a good approach to getting your kid to sleep through the night is up to you. I didn’t write this post to debate the merits of sleep training, only to point out the flaws in the original Psychology Today blog post, and its misrepresentation by the Strollerderby piece. Bottom line, I wouldn’t use this opinion piece to make a decision about sleep training- because while it has some “Sample References” it doesn’t include a lick of data.
I wasn’t going to bother posting about this- although the way the media misuse/misrepresent/misconstrue science is something that always irks me (see this post)- because I just couldn’t be bothered raising my blood pressure that much. However, today, Shine had a sesational headline: Is Crying It Out Dangerous for Kids?
What do they cite? The Pychology Today Moral Landscape blog post. How to they present it? As a research article:
In an article published this week in Psychology Today, one researcher says that crying it out could be dangerous for children, leading to a lifetime of harm. (Source)
Let’s get some terminology clear. In scientific parlance, the word ‘article’ generally refers to original research containing data that has been peer reviewed before being published. A work that is a summary of the current literature on a topic with extensive references will be called a ‘review article’ to make it clear that it is not original research. What Strollerderby and Shine are calling an ‘article’ is what scientists would call an ‘opinion piece’ or perhaps an ‘editorial’ or, as the author refers to it, as a ‘blog post’- but NOT an article of any sort because it contains neither data nor extensive references, and does not constitute a summary of the current literature.
Attention Media: Please stop misleading your readership! Please do not present blog posts or editorials or opinion pieces as vetted scientific research!
To my readers, whatever your stance is on ‘cry it out’ please don’t use any of these ‘articles’ as your source of information.