Category Archives: psychology

[Book Review] Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, by Paul Bloom

OVERALL: Paul Bloom is a developmental psychologist, but in his exploration of human morality, Just Babies, he promises to include a broader disciplinary scope. True to his word, the text makes references to Herodotus as smoothly as Louis C.K., without straying from the point. Bloom’s thesis is clear: that morality is something all people have naturally, in varying degrees, and that it is developed and shaped just as any other human skill. He draws on classic philosophers Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, and Thomas Hobbes, but unlike those scholars, Bloom’s voice is conversational and will be easily digested by the modern reader. 

ON CONTENT: The points made in this book are easy to understand and well supported by current theories of developmental psychology. Familiarity, for example, makes us more likely to help someone; we recognize good and bad behavior in others before recognizing the same in ourselves; these points are predictable in any discussion of moral development. Some points might be surprising to readers, such as the conclusion that language differences are more influential, earlier in life, in the othering process than differences in appearance. In other words, it turns out that we’re more likely to consider someone an outsider based on our perception of their accent, than we would if they looked different from us.

In some ways, I found Bloom’s chapter on how we divide ourselves into us’s and them’s to be the most interesting chapter. Noting our tendency toward categorization and our innate biases toward the familiar, Bloom points out that what’s familiar isn’t necessarily what we look like, but rather what those around us look like – if we grow up in a diverse group, we’re more likely to be more accepting of diversity later in life, leading to more inclusive ‘us’ groups. Further, the biases we develop become self-perpetuating because we believe them to be true. The act of othering people, which we do automatically, causes us to tend to look down on ‘them,’ because our perception is that others are never as good – or as human – as us. The specific racial biases that are prevalent in the US are left out of this conversation because, as Bloom says, “The origins of these [racial or social group] generalizations are better understood through history and sociology than through psychology, neuroscience, or evolutionary biology. It would be absurd to explain the gross disparities between whites and blacks in America, for instance, without reference to the legacy of slavery or Jim Crow.” (p120)

I have few complaints about this book, and the ones I have feel nitpicky and vaguely incorrect. Overall, this was an academic work that is easy to read – fun, even – and informative. What’s not to love? I’ve already found myself recommending it to others and bringing it up in discussions.

Despite my doubts about my complaints, I’m going to voice them anyway. So here ya go:
Early on, Bloom describes the innate morality of humans as being unevenly distributed, but that statement becomes something to keep in mind, an under-explored caveat to the findings of the studies he references, rather than a defensible point. I felt as though the idea got left behind rather unceremoniously. Some other ideas, ones I felt had a bit of importance, got roughly the same treatment. Bloom’s narrative would be trundling along with an idea, I’d get all excited to hear what he thought about it, and then – poof – it was gone, just before the climax.

The mirror neurons issue was one such idea. Bloom reasons (with plenty of support) that mirror neurons cannot be sufficient to explain empathy as adaptation, but he neglects to engage whether or not they might still be necessary. Ultimately, he drops the ball by calling the role of mirror neurons uninteresting, and focuses instead on the role of empathy in moral psychology. To be fair, that might be more to the point of the book he was writing, and was probably a good call. This could be my own bias coming through – I’m interested in the neuroscience of empathy. I’d personally like to hear more about the potential role of mirror neurons in the development of empathy as it impacts how we do the othering process. If we don’t have answers for that yet (as Bloom seems to insinuate), I’d rather he just say so outright than call the idea uninteresting.

In a later chapter, Bloom gives a great explanation of the ways our biases are shaped and affected by disgust. “Empathy triggers an appreciation of another’s personhood; disgust leads you to construe the other as diminished and revolting, lacking humanity.” (p140) However, Bloom’s argument here falls short toward the end. He illustrates how most of our disgust reactions – such as those to excrement or rotten food – are easily explained as evolutionary adaptations, and he acknowledges the shortcomings of adaptation as a mechanism for the development of some of western society’s social mores regarding sexuality. Moving into the discussion of the development of sexual morality, Bloom questions why, since homosexuals do not create any risk to the gene pool, and homosexuality may actually strengthen social bonds (as we now know it does for bonobos), there is no evolutionary reason for the social bias against homosexuality. He concludes, then, that “this aspect of moral psychology is a biological accident. It just so happens that evolved systems that keep us away from parasites and poisons respond in a certain negative way to sexual acitivity. Over the course of history, this aversive reaction has been reinforced, directed, and sanctified by various cultural practices.” (p153) What Bloom is missing, when he questions why other people’s sexual activities should matter to us at all, is that they matter very much when you have a social order built on a hetero-monogamous construct which creates and contains the wealth of the participants. Just as one cannot determine the origins of racial bias without looking at the historical precedents, we cannot look at homophobia or non-monogamy biases without examining those historical precedents. Bloom is almost there; he’s so close, that I wonder if the connection was meant to be implied, and I just missed it somehow.

No matter. I’ll still be re-reading this book for my future research projects. I have no doubt.


BOOK REVIEWED: Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, Paul Bloom. 2013. ISBN 978-0-307-88685-9

I received a copy of this book for review from Random Publishing House, via

Substance Abuse in Behavioral Health Professionals


Illicit drug and alcohol abuse by behavioral health professionals has been overlooked in psychological research. This researcher begins the analysis of substance abuse by behavioral health professionals by determining whether there is a significant difference in reported substance abuse between four categories of behavioral health professionals. The professional categories reviewed are social workers, licensed counselors, marriage and family therapists, and substance abuse counselors. Data was retrieved from the annually published Adverse Action Reports of the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners. The analysis uses a one-way ANOVA and Tukey’s post-hoc HSD test to determine the existence of a significant difference in population means of reported substance abuse by the different groups of behavioral health professionals. The researcher found that substance abuse counselors are reported for behaviors associated with substance abuse more frequently than other behavioral health professionals (F(3,18) = 4.739, p < .05). More research should be done to understand and mitigate this phenomenon.

Keywords: substance abuse, behavioral health professionals, social workers, licensed counselors, marriage and family therapists, substance abuse counselors

When people in Arizona need help recovering from their drug addiction, they are often sent to a licensed behavioral health professional to get that help. The professional they work with will probably be a Substance Abuse Counselor, someone specially trained to deal with the particular challenges of overcoming addiction. One would hope that the people hired to help those with substance abuse problems would not be in the midst of their own substance abuse problem. However, that cannot be counted on.

Defining substance abuse. The DSM-5 (2013) describes several criteria in the diagnosis of Substance Use Disorders, including but not limited to risky use of the substance in question. Behaviors that are indicative of dependency on either alcohol or illicit drugs, therefore, include those behaviors that put the individual at risk. These behaviors might be measured by their results. For example, one could count illicit drug or alcohol-related arrests, such as for driving while intoxicated, or non-criminal behaviors, such as testing positive in employment-based drug testing. Disciplinary reports could provide such a count. For that reason, this researcher defines substance abuse as the behaviors indicative of dependency on either alcohol or illicit drugs.

Current research. Although there are no studies specific to the problem of substance abuse by behavioral health professionals (BHPs) there are a number of disciplinary reports citing substance abuse policy infractions. A quick glance at the Adverse Actions Reports published in Arizona each year indicates that drugs and alcohol are problems for BHPs (Adverse Actions, 2014). However, while one can find studies of substance abuse and addiction problems in medical professionals (Domino, et al., 2005), similar studies of BHP have not happened or have not been published. Even those studies that have examined ethical challenges to the mental health field avoid substance abuse issues. A 1992 study by Pope and Vetter looked at twenty-three categories of ethical dilemmas faced by members of the American Psychological Association; Not one of those categories referenced substance abuse.

Of the behavioral health professions, only Substance Abuse Counselors (SAC) have been discussed in terms of their risk of substance abuse during their professional career. There is a history of organizations and private practices hiring recovered addicts (including recovered alcoholics) to fill that position (White, 2000). Their personal experience with addiction, it is argued, aids them as professionals because it allows for greater empathy with their clients (White, 2000). Opponents of the practice might question whether people with histories of substance abuse might increase their risk of relapse by repeatedly exposing themselves to the language and behaviors of substance abuse. One might question whether a behavioral health professional’s relapse could put their clients in danger of the same. White (2000) reported that there was a decreasing trend in the number of SAC who were themselves recovered addicts. However, his last cited estimate (62%) of SAC being recovered addicts was in 1997 (White, 2000). Currently, we do not know how many practicing SAC have a history of substance abuse, or how many have relapsed since being licensed as SAC. We also do not know whether SAC who are recovered addicts are at higher risk for substance abuse relapse than non-professionals or other BHP who have a history of substance addiction.

Indications of substance abuse. Studies on the general population give an idea of what some risk factors of substance abuse and relapse might be. The National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013) reported that 8.70% of Arizona residents over 26 years old, and 10.53% of Arizona residents over 18, experienced dependence on or abused alcohol or illicit drugs in 2010 and 2011. The population of behavioral health professionals in Arizona is a subset of the entire state population, so one might expect the rates of substance abuse to be similar in these populations. However, behavioral health professionals, as a group, are employed people who have self-selected into a career dedicated to helping others. This could be an indication of a tendency toward higher social responsibility, a personality trait inversely related to conscientiousness. Social responsibility combines at various life stages with social-environmental factors predict substance abuse, such that higher social responsibility predicts lower rates of substance abuse (Roberts & Bogg, 2004). Additionally, being employed increases social responsibility (Roberts & Bogg, 2004). Therefore we expect that BHP will have a lower substance abuse rate than their peers not in the same career category.

Sinha (2001) found stress to be a factor in relapses. As a group, BHP are subjected to vicarious traumas and lesser negative experiences, compassion fatigue, and general stress (Adams, Boscarino, & Figley, 2006). Additionally, behavioral health professionals are unlikely to seek out help when stress becomes overwhelming (Siebert & Siebert, 2007). These factors (high stress and reluctance to seek help) could increase their risk for substance abuse, particularly for those BHP with a history of substance abuse, for whom relapse is a possibility. If Substance Abuse Counselors (SAC) are in fact more likely to have a pre-professional history of substance abuse than other BHP, then one would expect them to also have a higher risk than other BHPs of substance abuse during their employment as behavioral health professionals.

Some questions concerning the challenges specific to substance abuse by behavioral health professionals have been described. It would be helpful to understand first whether certain behavioral health professionals have greater risk for substance abuse than others. The intention of this researcher is to determine whether there is a difference in reported substance abuse between the different behavioral health professions.


Data Collection

This study used archival data, and the data was freely available on the websites of the reporting agencies, which were the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the U.S. federal government, and the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners (ABBHE). Their websites are and, respectively. The tally and computation of data was conducted in a Microsoft Excel file.


Data for this study was retrieved from Adverse Actions Reports published by the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners (ABBHE) over the past six years (from 2008 to 2013). ABBHE Adverse Action Reports are published annually by the ABBHE, and contain records of every disciplinary (adverse) action taken in response to violations by the licensed Arizona behavioral health professionals that occur in that year.


All behavioral health professionals who practiced in Arizona during the date range between 2008 and 2013, and who were reported for adverse action during that time, are included in ABBHE Adverse Action Reports. The ages, ethnicities and genders of these participants are unknown. These reports were used to collect a tally of citations of drug and alcohol misuse by social workers in Arizona, who are licensed and regulated by the ABBHE.


In the ABBHE Adverse Action Reports, each reported professional is listed individually, and some professionals are listed as having multiple infractions in a single incident. Some incidences are listed more than once; in these cases, adverse action reports were generated at various stages of the investigation (e.g., a report might be generated at the time of allegation, and another report might be generated at the conclusion of the investigation). This researcher tallied the number of drug or alcohol-related infractions attributed to each licensure type each year, regardless of other infractions listed in a given incident, and only tallied once for each infraction, regardless of how many times the infraction was listed. Individuals whose application for initial licensure was denied due to drug or alcohol-related infractions were included in the tally. Drug or alcohol-related infractions tallied included self-reports of substance abuse, arrests for intoxication, and positive drug test results during employment screening.

There are four categories of behavioral health professionals licensed in Arizona. These include Social Workers, Licensed Counselors, Substance Abuse Counselors, and Marriage and Family Therapists (for a list of the licenses included in each category, see Table 1, Appendix).

Tallies for drug or alcohol-related infractions were compiled in the four groups, such that all infractions for SWs were in one group, LCs in another group, MFTs another group, and SACs in another group. Drug or alcohol-related infractions included reported arrests for drug or alcohol-related crimes (e.g., drunk driving arrests), self-reported drug or alcohol dependence, and positive results on employment-based drug tests.

Finally, the researcher contacted the ABBHE by phone, and requested the total numbers of behavioral health professionals licensed in Arizona for each of the years from 2008 to 2013, and the total population of each licensure group by year. That information was given to the researcher over the phone by a qualified representative of the ABBHE.


This researcher used a one-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) and Tukey’s Honestly Significant Difference (HSD) Test to determine whether or not there is a significant difference in the four groups’ population means of substance abuse-related adverse action reports over six years, from 2008 to 2013. The one-way ANOVA was chosen because it allowed the comparison of more than two independent groups (four independent groups were tested). Tukey’s test was used because, if there were an honestly significant difference between the groups, it could be used to determine where the difference was. The independent variable is the licensure type of the behavioral health professionals who are monitored by the ABBHE. The four groups of license types described previously make up the four levels of the independent variable. The dependent variable is the rate of drug and alcohol misuse by individuals in each group, as reported in the Adverse Action reports. The proportions of individuals cited for substance abuse in each group, in each year, are the samples (see Table 2, Appendix).


The null hypothesis is that there is no significant difference in the population means of substance abuse reported in the ABBHE Adverse Action Reports for each of the four major licensure types in Arizona. The alternative hypothesis is that there is, in fact, at least one significant difference in the population means of incidences reported in the ABBHE Adverse Action Reports for each of the four major licensure types. There was a significant difference in reported substance abuse among the Social Workers group (n = 6, M = .15%, SD = .08%), the Licensed Counselor group (n = 6, M = .13%, SD = .09%), the Marriage and Family Therapist group (n = 6, M = .13%, SD = .16%), and the Substance Abuse Counselor group (n = 6, M = .46%, SD = .21%) ( F(3,18) = 4.739, p < .05). Tukey’s HSD tests showed that the Social Workers group, Licensed Counselor group, and Marriage and Family Therapist group did not differ significantly from each other in substance abuse, but all three of those groups differed significantly from the Substance Abuse Counselor group (see Table 3, Appendix).


This study was conducted to determine whether there is a difference in substance abuse by the different categories of behavioral health professionals, including Social Workers, Licensed Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Substance Abuse Counselors. Previous research implied a connection between substance abuse and stress (Sinha, 2001), and indicated that helping professionals such as BHP are subjected to high stress (Adams, Boscarino & Figley, 2006) but have difficulties reaching out for help (Siebert & Siebert, 2007). Further, previous research indicated that many Substance Abuse Counselors are recovered, or recovering, from substance abuse addictions and thus are at risk of relapse (White, 2000), while the same has not been indicated for other BHP. Therefore, this researcher expected to find that Substance Abuse Counselors do have a higher rate of substance abuse than do other BHP. This expectation was met.

This study was limited because it only included those BHP who were reported through ABBHE channels were included in the tally of substance abuse-related behavior. It is unknown how many BHP might behave similarly, but due to circumstance or other unidentified factors, might not have been reported for disciplinary action. A review of disciplinary actions by professional psychology boards found that many infractions are never reported (Van Horne, 2004). It is possible that behavioral health professional boards have similar inconsistencies. This study did not examine this possibility.

A potential confound of this study is that some of those reported in the Adverse Action Reports for substance abuse behaviors were applicants, as opposed to being fully licensed BHP. It is unknown whether the professionals would be more or less likely to engage in this behavior based on their status as applicants or licensees. Other potential confounds include the ages, sexes, genders, and career longevity of the BHP. None of these demographics are reported in the Adverse Action Reports, so differences based on these are unknown.

A more comprehensive study should include demographic information and a broader population. While this study included all BHP in the state of Arizona, it would be beneficial to include comparable data from other states. In addition to increasing the sample size and giving more depth to the study, this might serve to point out regional differences, which might be indicative of the relative successes of state policies on substance abuse support for BHP.

Future research should branch out from the understanding that Substance Abuse Counselors could be more likely than other behavioral health professionals to struggle with substance abuse. Studies that seek to understand the relative effectiveness of various state policies on substance abuse support for behavioral health professional should be considered, as should studies that question the risk factors for substance abuse in behavioral health professionals, such as compassion fatigue or personality types. These studies should focus particularly on Substance Abuse Counselors. It would also be beneficial to determine whether Substance Abuse Counselors who do have a history of substance addiction are more or less likely to relapse than people who have similar histories of addiction but are not behavioral health professionals.


It is important that people who seek help for substance use disorders are able to get help from a professional who is not at risk of succumbing to the same disorder. It is just as important that behavioral health professionals have the support required to assist clients. Substance Abuse Counselors with a history of substance abuse are common in the field, and they are attempting to help a population that does not necessarily receive a lot of empathy from others. These professionals have the empathy, they are willing to help, and they are simultaneously trying to help themselves become better people. Determining the best course of action the rest of the population can take to aid these professionals in these goals should be a priority.



Adams, R. E., Boscarino, J. A., & Figley, C. R. (2006). Compassion fatigue and psychological distress among social workers: A validation study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 76(1), 103-108.

Adverse Actions. (n.d.) About Us. Retrieved January 29, 2014, from

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed., pp. 483-589). Substance-Related Disorders. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Domino, K. B. (2005). Risk factors for relapse in health care professionals with substance use disorders. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 293(12), 1453-1460.

Pope, K. S., & Vetter, V. A. (1992). Ethical dilemmas encountered by members of the American Psychological Association: A national survey. American Psychologist, 47(3), 397-411.

Roberts, B. W., & Bogg, T. (2004). A longitudinal study of the relationships between conscientiousness and the social- environmental factors and substance-use behaviors that influence health. Journal of Personality, 72(2), 325-354.

Sinha, R. (2001). How does stress increase risk of drug abuse and relapse? Psychopharmacology, 158(4), 343-359.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). 2010-2011 NSDUH State estimates of substance use and mental disorders. Retrieved February 27, 2014, from

Van Horne, B. A. (2004). Psychology licensing board disciplinary actions: The realities. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 35(2), 170-178.

White, W. L. (2000). The history of recovered people as wounded healers: II. The era of professionalization and specialization. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 18(2), 1-25.





the makings of men: yes, I’m doing my homework again

The conversation transcribed below is scripted, and is from a TV show called Six Feet Under. The clip (which is available for your viewing pleasure at the bottom of this post – you’re welcome) is from the first season, which aired in 2001. The section which has been transcribed is a conversation between a father and son who run, with their family, a mortuary and funeral home. It so happens that the father in this scene has passed away, and is speaking to the son as a sort of ghost. Later in the clip, it is implied cinematically that the conversation happened as part of a dream. Despite the unlikely circumstances of the conversation, and despite the fact that the conversation is scripted rather than natural, it is well-scripted, in that it could very plausibly be a conversation between any father and son who have been unexpectedly reunited. The two men sit across from each other, and share a cigarette as they talk.
1 D:     So I’m walkin a/long one day
2          and this asshole `stops me
3          and /asks me if I’m `alright?
4          He says I got a /look.
5          He’d seen a /man.
6          with that /same look once.
7          a:nd had ignored it.
8          And that man had `jumped out a nine story window.
9          ((high-pitched laugh))
10        .hhhh
11        Do you know the reconstruction `involved
12        in a death like that?
13        hhh-
14        This business gets under your skin.
15        It’s like a fuckin virus.
16        You can even /see it on your /face.
17        `Smell it on you.
18 S:    What the /hell is this place – this music?
19        Since when do you listen to (.) the classics four?
20        What the `hell did you /do here?
21        Who the `hell /are you?
22 D:   So many questions –
23        why didn’t ya ask them when I was still aLIVE?
24        (.2) It’s ok, I couldn’t’ve answered most of them anyway.
25        Unlike now, /now I’m a /fucking prophet.
26 S:    Right.
27 D:   You think I’m kidding buddy-boy?
28        ((Leans back))
29        That’s one of the `perks of being /dead.
30        you know what `happens after you /die?
31        `and (.) you know the meaning of life.
32        ((smiles, quiet laugh))
33 S:    /That seems fairly /useless.
34 D:   Yeah I know.
35        Life is `wasted on the /living.
36        ((puffs cigarette))
37 S:    Ya `coulda told me you were /proud of me.
38 D:   You were never /around for /me to tell.
39        Which was `exactly what I was `proud of you /for.
40        ((short laugh)) therein lies your catch-22 ((laughs more))
D: Dad as speaker
S: Son as speaker
` heavy accent
/ light accent
? rising intonation
. falling intonation
(.) brief pause
(.n) measurable pause
CAPS increased volume
*Transcription begins at 3:26 in the clip, which is from Six Feet Under, season 1.
Of the three characteristics of hegemonic masculinity described by Bird – emotional detachment, competitiveness, and objectification of women – two are evidenced in this scene: emotional detachment and competitiveness (1996, pg. 121). Although Bird first defines emotional detachment as the detachment of a young man from his mother in his process of masculinization (pg 121), there seems to be a certain degree of emotional detachment from other men which is integral in the hegemonic identification of masculinity. Indeed, Bird discusses this aspect of emotional detachment as an identifier of masculinity on the very next page, and we see evidence of this behavior in the conversation transcribed above. Bird describes this emotional detachment as “withholding expressions of intimacy” (pg 122). We can gather from the conversation that the son in particular is aware of an emotional distance between him and his father. In lines 18 through 21, the son expresses his frustration with this distance. His frustration is made more evident by the suddenness of his statements, which are contextually unconnected to the last statement made by his father. This emotional disconnection is verified by the father’s reply, in lines 22 and 23: “So many questions – why didn’t you ask them when I was still alive?” From this, we know that these two men didn’t discuss such emotional matters under normal circumstances. Further, in line 37, the son expresses frustration that his father hadn’t expressed any pride in the son. This is another indication of the two men having been emotionally at arm’s length from each other.
The father’s response, on lines 38 and 39, brings us to another point; Bird discussed this in terms of competitiveness, and Willott and Griffindiscussed it in terms of successful masculinities: the son wasn’t home enough for the father to have a chance to express his pride in his son, which was the source of the father’s pride. Not hanging around at home could be an indication of the son’s independence, which is also an indicator of emotional detachment as a characteristic of masculinity (Bird, pg.125), but it’s just as true that the son’s absence from the family home provides a valuable measure of masculinity in and of itself. As Willott and Griffin found, the ability of a man to spend time away from home is, in some ways, and indicator of his success as a man. Even without the pub as a destination – since this TV show is set in USA, not England, and rounds at the pub are less dominant in American culture than in British – a man still must leave the home (in terms of the hegemonic masculine ideology) in order to be a successful provider. Thus, being away from home is a symbol of success as a man, because being a good provider is a tenet of masculinity in the hegemonic ideal (Willott and Griffin, pg. 117). The son’s success might also be considered a measure of the father’s success; the father is proud of his son because his son has succeeded in displaying himself as a capable provider (by not being home), and the success of one’s progeny can be considered a reflection of the parent’s success in their role. Therefore, the competitive aspects of the father’s statement of pride (lines 38 and 39) are relevant to and evidence of the masculine successes of both father and son.
This conversation as a whole might be viewed as edging over the boundaries established by the same emotional detachment it gives evidence of, but the two men maintain a certain distance even as the content of their speech becomes intimate. Their retained distance is visible in their physical distance – they remain on opposite sides of a sitting area, across a small table from each other – and their emotional controls do not escape them beyond a slight raise in volume by the father (line 23), which is quickly contained. Furthermore, the potentially engaging emotions are laughed at – exactly as Bird found in her studies (pg. 126), when participants told her that “feelings are ‘something for us all to joke about.’” The fact that the single moment of raised volume is acted out by the father, as opposed to the son, is also notable. Bird describes how a man’s relationship to the hegemonic masculinity ideals might change over his lifetime, and specifically mentions that one man, at least, cared less about fitting into that ideal as he grew older.
Overall, this conversation gives us an inverse sense of the ‘Father knows best’ ideology discussed by Ochs and Taylor (1996), in that we’re made to understand that the son knows very little of the father’s life. So, despite the role of the father as the protagonist (in that he is the subject of the story he narrates in lines 1 through 17, and in that the son’s contributions to the conversation are almost entirely questions concerning the father’s past behavior) in this particular conversation, the viewers understand that this has not normally been the case. The son is frustrated by how little he knows about his father, and it seems that perhaps he has never even realized, before, how shallow his understanding of his father is. Thus it’s clear that, while we don’t know whether or not the father was a recipient in previous family conversations, he certainly wasn’t the protagonist. This finding is consistent with what Ochs and Taylor discovered about fathers, which is that fathers are typically not protagonists (pg. 102). Even within their families, fathers – as the primary masculine identity in a typical nuclear family – maintain the emotional detachment evidenced in Bird’s research.

Bird, S. R. (1996). Welcome to the men’s club: Homosociality and the maintenance of hegemonic masculinity. Gender & Society, 10(2), 120-132.
Ochs, E. & Taylor, C. (1996). ‘The father knows best’ dynamic in family dinner narratives. Gender articulated: Language and the socially constructed self. ed. by K. Hall. Routledge. pp.97-121.
Six Feet Under, The Room – YouTube. (n.d.). YouTube. Retrieved July 1, 2013, from
Willott, S., & Griffin, C. (1997). `Wham Bam, Am I A Man?’: Unemployed Men Talk About Masculinities. Feminism & Psychology, 7(1), 107-128.