Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Cost Effective Treatment for Criminals and At-Risk Teens

In an experiment in Liberia, researchers took 999 of the most violent, high-risk criminals in their capital, and for only $535 of expenses per person (nothing to these kinds of programs or compared to the cost of crime and prisons), they bought 20-50% lower incidents of crime in that population for a year. The treatment was asking 1500 candidates if they wanted therapy – 2/3 of them said yes – and they ran a cheap cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) course with them.

CBT was then brought to Chicago youths with similarly positive results in three separate randomized controlled trials. Graduation rates rose and crime rates fell, crucial in bringing a new generation out of poverty with access to better opportunities.

Image By Jty33 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0

In the two studies participation in the program reduced total arrests during the intervention period by 28–35%, reduced violent-crime arrests by 45–50%, improved school engagement, and in the first study where we have follow-up data, increased graduation rates by 12–19% […] These large behavioral responses combined with modest program costs imply benefit-cost ratios for these interventions from 5-to-1 up to 30-to-1 or more. 

If the improvements in participants’ high school graduation lead to other future benefits such as increased earnings or longer life expectancies, these estimates may understate the full value of the program’s social benefits
“Thinking, Fast and Slow?” Heller, et al


To investigate, we recruited 999 of the highest-risk men in Liberia’s capital, generally aged 18 to 35. Most were engaged in part-time theft and drug dealing, and regularly had violent confrontations with each other, community members, and police.

Men who received therapy reduced their antisocial behavior dramatically. Within a few weeks, for instance, drug dealing halved and thefts fell by a third, compared to controls. With therapy alone, these effects diminished after a year. When therapy was followed by cash, however, effects were lasting. For example, a year later, those who received both therapy and cash were 44% less likely to be carrying a weapon, 43% less likely to sell drugs, and reported lower aggression. In the control group, men reported stealing almost once per week on average, and with therapy and cash this fell nearly 40%—equal to 25 crimes per year, per person. 
Poverty Action Lab

The File Drawer Effect, or Why Your High School Psychology Class was Useless


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The world of psychology was rocked recently by a study showing that huge chunks of psychology research weren’t able to be replicated. High-profile studies, like the one linking feeling clean and pure to the judgment of other people’s morals, were involved in The Great Debunking. 

This problem isn’t unique to social psychology. Most fields of science, especially for lower-profile, IFL-science-style studies, are plagued by this replication bias. Even cancer research is impacted.

There’re a few issues contributing. For one, there’s a bias toward findings that are surprising and prove something. That bias, which leads to studies with negative or confirmation results, to end up sitting around file drawers unpublished, is called “publication bias,” or “the file drawer effect.” It also discourages studies simply replicating the results of previous studies. No one makes their mark that way.

The scientific community has been making efforts to fix the problem, and it doesn’t affect high-profile issues of scientific consensus, like the Big Bang, Evolution, or Climate Change, but we have a long way to go.

Image By Sara Franses (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0
(, via Wikimedia Commons

Given the stakes involved and its centrality to the scientific method, it may seem perplexing that replication is the exception rather than the rule. The reasons why are varied, but most come down to the perverse incentives driving research. Scientific journals typically view “positive” findings that announce a novel relationship or support a theoretical claim as more interesting than “negative” findings that say that things are unrelated or that a theory is not supported. The more surprising the positive finding, the better, even though surprising findings are statistically less likely to be accurate.


Publication bias is a type of bias occurring in published academic research. It occurs when the outcome of an experiment or research study influences the decision whether to publish (or otherwise distribute) it. Publication bias is of interest because literature reviews of claims about support for a hypothesis or values for a parameter will themselves be biased if the original literature is contaminated by publication bias.


“Positive results in research studies overall, became 22% more likely to appear in scientific journals from 1990 to 2007,” says the study, which looked at a sample of 4,656 papers over this time period, looking for trends in science journals.
The analysis looked at studies where authors proposed a hypothesis and then sought to test it, either confirming it for a positive result, or not. Overall, 70.2% of papers were positive in 1990–1991 and 85.9% were positive in 2007. “On average, the odds or reporting a positive result have increased by around 6% every year, showing a statistically highly significant trend,” says the study.


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