The New York Times Magazine profiles the work of Harvard psychologist Matthew K. Nock, the director of Harvard University’s Laboratory for Clinical and Developmental Research. Word association begins to describe, but probably oversimplifies, his approach.
The story calls 39-year-old Nock, as “one of the most original and influential suicide researchers in the world.”
The inscrutability of suicide has not kept most psychologists who study it from theorizing about why people kill themselves. Nock, however, tends to approach theories from a different angle. “I think it’s easy to generate explanations,” he said recently. “It’s much harder to test out these different explanations and see whether the data support them or not.”
In 2003, Nock approached his colleague about the Implicit Association Test, “famous for its ability to measure biases that subjects either don’t care to acknowledge or don’t realize they have on topics like race, sexuality, gender and age. Nock wondered if the I.A.T. could be configured to measure people’s bias for and against being alive and being dead, and Banaji thought it was worth a try. They experimented with several versions in Nock’s lab and at the psychiatric-emergency department at Mass General. Then they put their best one on a laptop and offered it to Mass General patients, many of whom had recently threatened or attempted suicide; 157 agreed to take it. Hunched in plastic waiting-room chairs or propped up in cots as they waited for a clinician to admit or discharge them, they were often grateful for a distraction…The I.A.T., it seemed, was picking up a heightened signal of suicidal tendencies that the most commonly used method for assessing risk — a clinical interview — had been powerless to detect.
More from The Washington Post.
Update 7/10: Knight Science Tracker knocks this as a single source story.