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Dr. Lauren Slater

Lauren Slater (born March 21, 1963) is an American psychotherapist and writer. She is the author of six books, including Welcome To My Country (1996), Prozac Diary (1998), and Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir (2000). Her 2004 Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century, a description of psychology experiments "narrated as stories," [1] has drawn both praise and criticism. It was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Kirsch award for science and technology writing, [2] and was named as a 2005 Bild Der Wissenschaft book of the year in Germany. [3] Criticism has focused on Slater's research methods and on the extent to which some of the experiences she describes may have been fictionalized.

Other awards Slater has won include the 1993 New Letters Literary Award in creative non-fiction, and the 1994 Missouri Review Award, and her work was included in The Best American Essays of 1994 and 1997. [4] She has contributed to The New York Times, Harper's, and Elle. [4]

The Village Voice has called her "the closest thing we have to a doyenne of psychiatric disorder." [5]

Education and career

Slater is a freelance writer specializing in psychology, mental illness, and women's health. She graduated in 1985 from Brandeis University with a bachelor’s degree in British and American literature. [6] She earned a master's degree in psychology from Harvard University and a doctorate in psychology from Boston University. Slater was a 2002-03 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During the fellowship, part of the Program on Science, Technology and Society in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, her area of study was neuropsychology, psychiatric care, medical technologies, and medical ethics. [7]

Slater was a clinical psychologist for 11 years before embarking on a full-time writing career. She was the director of AfterCare Services, a mental health and substance-abuse clinic in Boston. [8]

After the birth of her daughter, Slater wrote her memoir Love Works Like This, [9] to chronicle the agonizing decisions she made related to her psychiatric illness and her pregnancy. In a 2003 BBC Woman's Hour radio interview, [10] and a 2005 article in Child Magazine [11] Slater provides information on depression during pregnancy and the risks to the woman and her baby.

Opening Skinner's Box

Nominated for a Los Angeles Times Kirsch award for science and technology writing, [2] and named as a 2005 Bild Der Wissenschaft book of the year in Germany, [12] Opening Skinner's Box has been described as "one of the first major books to bridge the gap between academic and popular psychology." [13] In a 2004 literary review,[14] Farhad Manjoo, a writer for, observed that it was 'a genuinely compelling read'.

It describes — in the form of stories, complete with characters, plot, and emotional insights — the 10 psychology experiments Slater regards as the most significant or interesting of the 20th century. These include B.F. Skinner's work on behaviorism; Stanley Milgram's demonstration of how ordinary people can be influenced to obey authority; David Rosenhan's 1972 experiment in which eight people feigned mental illness then gained admittance to psychiatric hospitals; Harry Harlow's experiments with monkeys and motherhood; and Bruce Alexander's Rat Park, where laboratory rats addicted to morphine turned the drug down when given a better life. [1]


The criticism has focused on Slater's research methods and writing style. The use of creative non-fiction and Slater's highly personalized narrative style are unusual in a book about science, and the work has garnered some hostile reactions, mostly from the psychiatric or clinical psychology community, some of whom have disputed quotations she has used, or have criticized her understanding of the studies she wrote about. [15]

Slater's attorney has responded to the criticism by accusing some psychiatrists and psychologists of having mounted a "vindictive effort" and "vendetta" against her, and of "sniping" at her on [16]

David Corfield, a philosopher of mathematics writing in The Guardian, questions the veracity of the book's reported speech. He relates how, during Slater's discussion with Harvard University psychologist Jerome Kagan, she recalled how Kagan had suddenly dived under his desk to illustrate a point about free will. But Kagan told Corfield that he had done no such thing, and in fact had only suggested that he could do so if he wanted. [17]

In response to Corfield's criticism, Slater showed the New York Times an e-mail she received from Kagan, who was responding to a pre-publication fact-checking list she had sent him. Slater had written: "3. that, in demonstrating to me that people do, indeed, have free will, you jumped under your desk ...," and Kagan responded: "I was trying to demonstrate that when humans have a choice of actions, they can select an act that has never been rewarded in the past ..." [18]

Deborah Skinner Buzan, younger daughter of psychologist B.F. Skinner, has questioned the thoroughness of Slater's research. She has criticized Slater for repeating rumors that Buzan was abused by her father and became mentally ill as a result, and alleges that Slater failed to approach her for comment before publication. Buzan writes, also in The Guardian:

Slater's sensationalist book rehashes some of the old stuff, but offers some rumours that are entirely new to me. For my first two years, she reports, my father kept me in a cramped square cage that was equipped with bells and food trays, and arranged for experiments that delivered rewards and punishments. Then there's the story that after my father "let me out", I became psychotic. Well, I didn't. That I sued him in a court of law is also untrue. And, contrary to hearsay, I didn't shoot myself in a bowling alley in Billings, Montana. I have never even been to Billings, Montana. [19]

Farhad Manjoo protested on that Buzan's Guardian article 'reads as if she has never even picked up Slater's book', [14] observing that 'Slater's description of the box is pretty much in line with Buzan's description in the Guardian' [14] [20]

Another criticism concerned Slater's description of her reaction to the David Rosenhan study. Slater wrote that she had repeated Rosenhan's research — in which he trained students to pretend to be mentally ill to gauge the reactions of psychiatric hospitals — by presenting at the emergency rooms of multiple hospitals with a single auditory hallucination to see whether she would be admitted as a psychiatric patient. She said that she was not admitted but was given prescriptions for antipsychotics and antidepressants.

This has been questioned by a number of psychiatrists and psychologists, including Robert Spitzer of the New York State Psychiatric Institute. [16] Slater replied through her attorney that she considered her work to be an "anecdote, not systematic research, and certainly not a 'replication' of Rosenhan's study". [16] Slater's attorney accused Spitzer of being involved in a campaign to discredit Slater's work. [16]



Anthology contributions

  • (2002) "Dr. Daedalus" in The Best American Science Writing 2002 (anthology), HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 0-06-093650-9 [22]
  • (1997) "Black Swans" in The Best American Essays 1997 (anthology), Houghton Mifflin Company, ISBN 0-395-85695-7
  • (1994) "Striptease" [23] in The Best American Essays 1994 (anthology), Houghton Mifflin Company, ISBN 0-395-69254-7

Recent articles

  • "On Love," National Geographic, February 2006 (excerpt)
  • "Who Holds The Clicker?", Mother Jones Magazine, Nov/Dec 2005
  • "Cognitive Dissonance: The Work Of Leon Festinger," Die Welt, August 2005
  • "The Life Of Katrina Dalton," The New York Times Magazine, January 2005
  • "The Cruelest Cure: David Barlow and Anxiety Disorders", The New York Times Magazine, November 2004
  • "Rosenhan’s Pseudopatient Experiment," The London Times, April 2004
  • "Milgram’s Obedience Studies," The Guardian Magazine, April 2004
  • "Living In An Age Of Anxiety," Self Magazine, April 2004
  • "Parents help babies learn lessons of love", Deseret News (Salt Lake City), March 2003 (This article first appeared in Parenting magazine. (C) The Parenting Group.)
  • "The Value Of Repression," The New York Times Magazine, March 2003

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Slater, Lauren. Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century, Norton 2004, ISBN 0-393-05095-5
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Los Angeles Times Announces Kirsch Award Winner, Book Prize Finalists", Los Angeles Times Media Center, March 10, 2005
  3. "Wissenschaftsbuch des Jahres", HyperSchool, undated, retrieved April 14, 2006
  4. 4.0 4.1 Bloomsbury author information; retrieved April 6, 2006
  5. '"Life is like Skinner's box of chocolates: Slater revisits 20th-century psych's greatest hits", Village Voice (Shrink Rap), by Joy Press, 23 February 2004, accessed 27 April 2006
  6. Brandeis 50th Review
  7. Knight Science Fellows
  8. Slater,Lauren Do You Cure A Sex Addict?” The New York Times November 19, 2000
  9. Mental health net book review accessed 04/20/2006
  10. BBC Woman's Hour radio interview BBC Mental Health, Drugs & Pregnancy, Woman's Hour, 14 January 2003
  11. Slater, Lauren “The Pregnancy Blues“ Child Magazine April 2005
  12. "Wissenschaftsbuch des Jahres", HyperSchool, undated, retrieved April 14, 2006
  13. Lee, Felicia R. "Book's Critique of Psychology Ignites a Torrent of Criticism", The New York Times, April 12, 2004
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 How free is free will? (on Powell Books) by Farhad Manjoo, 28 May 2004
  15. Kihlstrom, John F. New England Journal of Medicine, September 2, 2004
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Letters from critics about Opening Skinner's Box, and responses from Slater's attorney.
  17. Corfield, David. "Box Pop", The Guardian, March 27, 2004
  18. Miller, Laura. "Unpacking Skinner's Box", The New York Times, May 2, 2004.
  19. Skinner Buzan, Deborah. "I was not a lab rat", The Guardian, March 12, 2004
  20. Note: Manjoo continued, 'Slater writes that it was actually an "an upgraded playpen" whose "thermostatically controlled environment" prevented diaper rash and other kiddie ailments, reduced the chance of suffocation by blanket, and allowed the daughter to walk around without any impediments, building a baby of impressive self-confidence.'
  21. Note: This book was alternately titled in the UK as Spasm: A Memoir with Lies, Methuen Publishing Ltd, ISBN 0-413-74250-4
  22. Note: This essay was also published in The Best American Magazine Writing 2002 (anthology), HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 0-06-051572-4
  23. List of articles on Slater's website

Further reading

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