All in the mind
The mixed evidence for mental interventions
I am sceptical of ‘distal’ interventions. This term borrows from anatomy where it means, “situated away from the point of attachment or origin or a central point.” It is the opposite of ‘proximal’ which is used to describe something located close to one of these points.
A distal intervention is when the intervention does not directly address the thing we want to improve. For example, a distal reading intervention may be to teach children philosophy or ask them to periodically complete physical exercises in class, whereas a proximal intervention would be teaching them to read.
Distal interventions rely on long chains of cause and effect and so can be scuppered at any link in this chain. Proximal interventions therefore seem a better bet.
Nevertheless, distal interventions are popular, particularly in relation to improving some proposed quality of the mind — as I have joked about in the past. Recently, we have seen new evidence on two such interventions — one positive and one less so.
Let’s start with the less positive evidence.
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