Sadism can be described as the psychological need to inflict harm on another human being, and it often manifests in the form of cruel actions. It is a subclinical form of malignant narcissism (Buckels et al., 2013). Many people have sadistic thoughts, and indeed, anger can at times elicit such thoughts; yet, sadists are not satisfied with having fantasies or thoughts where they indulge in the idea of harming others, they actually take actions where they consciously inflict such harm on other human beings. There are telltale signatures that can help you spot a sadistic offender. According to Reale et al. (2017, p. 4) ‘the most important indicators of sadism are (a) that the offender is sexually aroused by sadistic acts, (b) the offender exercises power/control/domination over the victim, (c) the offender humiliates and/or degrades the victim, (d) the offender tortures the victim or engages in acts of cruelty, and (e) the offender mutilates sexual parts of the victim’s body’. Nevertheless, more subtle forms of sadism occur in everyday life and these do not always involve physical violence. Pfattheicher et al. (2017, p. 338) state that ‘the very essence of sadism is that sadists are motivated to dominate and to control other individuals by harming them because they experience pleasure through their cruelty […], for instance when killing bugs or harming an innocent person’.
Some researchers believe that the tenet of sadism is disempowering and controlling the victim, rather than the infliction of pain per se. Either way, sadism is harmful and those who engage in it tend to get a boost out of the harm and helplessness they are causing. For instance, Debardeleben in Hazelwood and Michaud (2001, p. 88) cited and quoted in Luyn (2007, p. 21) state: ‘the wish to inflict pain on others is not the essence of sadism. The central impulse is to have complete mastery over another person, to make him or her a helpless object of our will. . . . And the most radical aim is to make her suffer. Since there is no greater power over another person than that of inflicting pain on her. To force her to undergo suffering without her being able to defend herself. The pleasure in the complete domination over another person is the very essence of the sadistic drive’. Sadism can happen in multidisciplinary settings, from politics to healthcare, and education; as well as in personal life. Sadism can happen through actions, policies, decisions, and narratives; and it can be pervasive, problematic and persistent. Sadism can be internalised by the superego (Freud, 1923) quo when it is culturally hypernormalised and exhibited by authority figures. Now, one might wonder, is sadism de facto or is it de jure? That is, does sadism encompass actions which violate the law of a jurisdiction (de facto), or does it also involve actions that are perfectly legal (de jure)? The answer is: both. Do people in general struggle to understand sadism because of the same reasons they struggle to understand the definition of what constitutes torture? Nowadays, someone can correctly feel like they are being tortured, but de facto sadists will argue “Oh, it is not torture!”. Well, if it involves the infliction of mental, emotional, psychological, or physical harm on another human being; then yes, it is legally correct to say that it is torture. Moreover, psychologically speaking, it is also correct to say that if someone consciously and deliberately inflicts harm on another human being, then indeed it is sadistic cruelty. Whether consciously or unconsciously, intentional or unintentional, everyday sadism can harm anyone, so it is important to have awareness about how to protect yourself in these unprecedented times.
But how can we clarify intent? Well, de jure sadism occurs when the state creates regulations which are harmful to people and does not fulfil its substantive and procedural obligations to prevent harm. For instance, people who suffer from pituitary brain tumours often develop a very low stress tolerance (i.e. a high propensity for adrenal fatigue). If the jurisdiction creates and designs institutional mechanisms which are based on the induction of stress contingencies, then it can be said that the jurisdiction has indeed created a sadistic environment that induces medico-legal injury on these people. This happens with many different types of minority groups. The point that is most concerning about all this is that in the institutional bias of ‘some people need to be stressed out in order to develop X or Y ability’ or ‘stress can be positive and productive’ is ultimately where the sadistic factor is really found. I always think: ‘Do women need rape?’ The answer of course, quickly becomes: ‘No, women do not need rape!’; so the next question is: ‘Do people need obstacles, adrenal fatigue, degradation, and all other forms of inhumane treatment in order to learn?’, the answer should equally be: ‘No, because that is a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it is sadistically cruel’. But, why is it so difficult for de jure decision-makers to understand this basic principle? De jure sadism also occurs when de facto sadism is not investigated adequately, nor processed through the legal system, or when there are no substantive and procedural mechanisms for its prevention.
No wonder there is a lot of de facto sadism. If a human being’s conscience is in a way partially constructed by the social and legislative norms of the world around them, and if such a status quo has sadistic protocols; then it can be expected that people in general will also develop attitudes, and show manifestations of such sadistic tendencies which are of course internalised and culturally inherited. Now, the worst type of experienced sadism is when someone has both, de jure and de facto sadists around them and against them. This happens to minority groups of all types, not just to people with pituitary adenomas. The Hostile Environment Policies 2014-2016 were a great example of state-led cultural and attitudinal sadism. Webber (2019, p. 77) states: ‘In the UK, these policies are collectively known as the “hostile environment”, policies which have the avowed aim of making life impossible for migrants and refugees who do not have permission to live in the UK, and which remove such migrants from the rights to housing, health, livelihood and a decent standard of living, liberty, freedom of assembly and association, family and private life, physical and moral integrity, freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment, and in the final analysis the right to human dignity and to life’.Indeed, the UK revealed at that point in time that it was culturally acceptable to hate immigrants; and in the legal industry you and I both know that justice is about what is correct or incorrect according to the principles which guide morals, behaviours, and so on. So it is clear that the UK does not want all those immigrants walking in the streets. It is clear that the world is filled with inequalities which create all types of problems forcing people to escape their homes and visit their international neighbours asking for first aid. So what can be done in order to balance all this? Abusing, torturing, and humiliating the disadvantaged is not the answer though. Furthermore, having our prime minister incorrectly call the legal human right of claiming asylum ‘illegal’ (Grierson and Sabbagh, 2020) is an attack against truth, and an offence against the international community. There is no such a thing as an illegal asylum seeker. I suppose the UK might have to create an asylum office in every country so people can apply for asylum without having to risk their lives crossing the channels. That would be a procedural solution to the concern of the contingencies of asylum travel. An asylum embassy, consulate, or something of the sort. Does it exist? No, because visas— like democracy— are business. Asylum, however, is the state of the global human condition; so what, Elon Musk can’t invade Mars fast enough?
When I began this journey in Forensic Psychology, I did not expect to learn as much as I have. The main tenet of this career consists in understanding psychopathy, and psychopathology.
It does make me question authoritarianism and the ways in which it can manifest. For instance, Milgram and Adorno et al. studied the psychology of obedience under pressure, and how following orders led to the holocaust. An aspect that has been questioned little is how scarcity or the fear of scarcity has led to similar phenomena due to how people have been conditioned to see money as an enabler of everyday behaviour. For instance, when Milgram conducted his obedience experiments during the 60s, he monetarily rewarded his participants for taking part in the studies. Modern psychologists have attempted to re-examine the dynamics at Yale’s laboratory and what might have led the participants to show that they were capable of being sadistic under such conditions. An example is Gibson’s (2013) work which meticulously examines the prods given by the experimenter. In a way, Gibson seeked to understand how the orders and requests given by the authority figure contributed to the decision-making processes of the participants. However, I have not come across much research highlighting the role of the monetary incentive in everyday behaviour; or how being given a monetary incentive places a subconscious obligation on individuals to comply with requests, even if such requests at times make them feel uncomfortable.
The c/s/x movement, also known as ‘the psychiatric survivors movement‘ (Wikipedia, n.d.) explores how a large number of individuals report feeling or having felt dehumanised by the mental health system. For the unstigmatised person, it is often more common to assume that all these people expressing dissatisfaction with the system are crazy, than to understand the nature of what it means to respect a person’s dignity and human rights. It is quite a complex situation, because it is unclear what reinforces and keeps some mental health settings from actively listening to their patients’ concerns.
According to Turner (2015), signal detection theory (SDT) “describes processes whereby information that is important to the perceiver (known as the ‘signal’) is distinguished from other information that is unimportant and potentially distracting (known as the ‘noise’)”. It is my hypothesis that some of the inherently dehumanising behaviours occurring in the mental health system happen as a result of the hyper-normalisation of object-relations with patients. As I mentioned on my post ‘Investigating the neuropsychopathologyof prejudice‘, people can at times perceive those with stereotyped and stigmatised characteristics as non-human objects. This would of course increase the chance of mental health settings staff processing signals coming from clients as background noise, rather than as worth-listening-to human signals. Such established conscious and unconscious behaviours leading to the dehumanisation of many clients are reinforced through monetary incentives, and through an intragroup, mob-like co-validation of such unconscious biases. Like Eichmann, many live their lives constantly affirming to themselves that they were just following procedures and orders, or just doing their job; and therefore they believe it is not their responsibility to reflect on how clients are impacted by this. But the signals coming from mental health patients often stand in stark contrast to the common belief that these dehumanising, and at times non-empathic methods are appropriate, or even de facto acceptable.
I do think everyone deserves to be paid for their labour, and that having access to a basic form of income is an important foundation in any society; and I also think that mental health settings need to be encouraged or trained appropriately to detect clients’ signals as more than just background noise (i.e. as more than non-human objects signals) in order to reduce risk outcomes. The situation is problematic, persistent, and pervasive with these manifestations of authoritarianism in mental health settings. It would indeed be arrogant to assume that all the patients/clients expressing dissatisfaction with the service are wrong, or to culturally pathologise reasonable dissent. It would also be irresponsible and de jure unacceptable to fail to take steps towards alleviating feelings of ‘being dehumanised’ in civil society, especially if such feelings of dehumanisation have the potential to lead to never events, such as suicide.
Blogs are a great way to express your voice. Even if your experiences have made you feel silent, oppressed, and unfairly treated at an intergroup relational context; you can still assert your thoughts, feelings and opinions in the online community. This way, blogging can be a method for cognitive-emotional democratic healing at both individual and collective levels.
Why is expressing your voice important?
Actions and reactions happen at inter and intra group levels for many reasons. Sometimes communicating our perspective helps elucidate a particular situation. So for instance, if you feel that some members of your social milieu have displayed hostility towards you as a result of the hostility that they themselves have been subjected to, you might be correct in assuming that such a hostility might have become hypernormalised at the group’s cultural level, and that such members are experiencing reactive-formative symptoms of trauma. For the minority individual, the experience of being let down, or rejected by a group, culture, system, or apparatus can be debilitating (i.e. it can feel like mob behaviour), and when this happens for a prolonged period of time; it can create feelings of marginalised frustration. Blogging is a good way to use your freedom of speech in a way that directly addresses the public audience, whilst simultaneously being an interpersonal method for expression.
The risk is to stay silent.
Setting up a blog
There are different ways in which you can begin your blog. The most common problem I hear when I speak with people about blogging is ‘I do not not what to say. I would not know where to start’. My answer is that such is precisely the way to start a blog. You do not need to know what to write about in order to express that you do not know what to write about. Sometimes it could be sharing your professional work. Other times it could just be about sharing an experience you went through. I tend to shift between these modes. Most of the time, I share some of my thoughts, feelings, and add something interesting that I have been researching about. Regardless of what your needs for expression are, blogging is an effective method for online communication and an interdisciplinary style for socialisation. But, what blog to use?
Choosing a blogging platform
Different people will prefer different types of blogs for their journalism depending on how much time or effort they wish to invest in the endeavour. Here are a few options:
Blogger: A very simple and generic user experience design for expressing thoughts. It has an archive of dates which store your thoughts across time. The interface is easy to learn, and it is free of charge. It is ideal for those only getting started in cybercultural activities.
Google Sites: This platform truly is flexible in terms of allowing the user to experience freedom in how to structure their pages. It is useful for creative projects and for getting started with digital design. It lacks an automatic blogging archive, so if what you are looking for is a place to log your thoughts, Blogger is a better option. All you need is a Google account.
WordPress: This blog (as you can see at the bottom of the page) is powered by WordPress. The reason why I personally prefer this platform is because it gives me a wide margin of flexibility when it comes to design, as well as simultaneously having an archive for blog posts which permits organization.
Medium: For those who do not wish to either hassle neither with the design nor with the other technicalities, Medium allows people to register and write. It is a community project, meaning that people from all walks of life contribute to the discussion.
Most available self-help for post-traumatic stress (PTS), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is based on a general assumption that the problem is cognitive or perceptual, instead of situational or circumstantial (known as a fundamental attribution error). Sadly, prolonged exposure therapy (PE) is sometimes used to treat such symptoms. This document will start by defining some key terms, and then it will proceed to critically evaluate some of Sword and Zimbardo’s (2018) statements about self help and therapy for PTS as cited in The Open University (2019). Finally, it will touch on the topic of suicide in the UK, and how the rates suggest that sometimes a change in the system, rather than in the patient is needed.
According to Ghafoori (2018, p. 124), PE involves ‘sufficient processing of the traumatic event by revisiting, repeating, recounting, and actively engaging with the trauma memory’. In other words, clients are deliberately exposed to the threatening stimuli that trigger their worst fears. This is similar to the definition posited by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2018), which describes torture as happening ‘when someone deliberately causes very serious and cruel suffering (physical or mental) to another person. This might be to punish someone, or to intimidate or obtain information from them’. Such form of therapy can be described as the most barbaric way to treat someone with PTSD. Some might be tempted to counter-argue that PE is not done to intimidate or punish, but rather to help. Nevertheless, the evidence in neuropsychology shows that the mere perception of pain or internal discomfort can damage the nociceptor neurons (those which process pain signals); and can therefore induce, for example, hyperalgesia (an abnormal hypersensitivity to pain, or the perception of pain; Medical News Today, n.d.; Miguez et al., 2014), which is the opposite of analgesia (a reduced sensitivity to pain). It is triggered by associative cues which produce assimilative signals that trigger psychosomatic hypervigilance, and an aversion to such cues therefore. This is why those who suffer from PTS can at times feel as though ‘they were being tortured’, and actively seek to escape or avoid such stressful stimuli. This will be explored further in the following paragraphs, especially when talking about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), a severe mental health illness manifesting in those who have experienced prolonged and extreme forms of trauma since childhood (NHS.UK, 2019).
Sword and Zimbardo’s (2018) excerpt describes PTS correctly when they say that it is trauma which is carried on after an event happens, and which manifests as flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and sleep disturbance. Moreover, they also ratify the set of symptoms as categorised by the American Psychiatric Association (2013): ‘depression, anxiety, flashbacks, avoidance, isolation, difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, difficulty concentrating, irritability, an exaggerated startle response and hypervigilance’. However, as a caveat it must be stated that ‘avoidant’ behaviour should at times be categorised as a survival skill, rather than a symptom. For instance, hyperalgesia can be induced by overwhelming the nociceptors in the brain with painful contextual cues which a person already perceives to be unpleasant, as explained by Miguez et al. (2014). This means that avoidance of painful stimuli can at times save someone from an increased sensitivity to painful situations. Moreover, Rotter’s (1966) theory of the locus of control as cited in Cherry and Barker (2015:235) would indicate that avoidance of a destructive stimulus would be in the individual’s locus of control, and this would also be supported by Rogers’ (1975) protection motivation theory as cited in Boer and Seydel (1996) which posits that fear-inducing stimuli are emotionally unpleasant, and it can therefore be expected that people will seek to avoid such stimuli. In addition, another problematic statement made by Sword and Zimbardo (2018) is that people with trauma see the world through a ‘darker lens’. Cherry and Barker’s (2015) work posited how self-help psychology at times fails to understand that it is not always the individual’s cognition that is faulty, but rather the reality around such individual (i.e. scientists can sometimes make fundamental attribution errors). A good example mentioned by Cherry and Barker (2015:244) is that of poverty, which effects on the human psyche include a lack of self-worth, a disruption of normal functioning, and feelings of marginalisation. As this is a circumstantial situation, trying to change a person’s perceptions of such real hardships might only contribute further to their symptoms. This is why it can be said that those who are seeking to profit from their work are avoiding poverty, which again is a protection-motivated behaviour, and not a symptom; therefore, challenging assumptions that avoidance is a mental health problem is crucial to improving mental health systems. Furthermore, Sword and Zimbardo (2018) also describe resentment as being a phenomenon experienced by those with PTS; however, the cluster symptomatology they list- ‘going to work, preparing meals, being interested in what they did that day—become chores’- is more consistent with the construct of anhedonia (losing pleasure in doing things that once brought a sense of comfort and satisfaction; Ritsner, 2014) than that of resentment, and this distinction is very important when trying to understand PTS; because depression-induced, affect-reactive behaviour is often mistaken with and stigmatised as narcissistic rage, or a toxic personality.
Furthermore, not only can PE induce hyperalgesia, but it can also create more repressed forms of trauma, and people can end up getting worse. Since pain-avoidant behaviour is not irrational when thinking about the way in which human neurons’ function and how these react to overwhelming amounts of discomfort, why is such inhumane treatment so often justified? Indeed, exposure to stressor cues which produce psychological discomfort can physically damage nociceptors, and this might explain why BPD with comorbid PTS patients, for example, are seen as ‘difficult to work with’ (Harvard, 2006) due to their exhibited hypersensitivity and hypervigilance (Palmer and Unruh, 2018). This type of systemic prejudice is based on a presumption of cognitive and behavioural guilt; especially if such expectations and attitudes are perceived as torturous by the client. No wonder many BPD clients develop an aversion to health-care, and no wonder Cherry and Barker’s (2015) chapter on self-help highlighted some of the paradoxical reactions that can happen when people are given the wrong type of help, or the wrong set of coping techniques. For example, some expectations when it comes to treating traumatised individuals are unrealistic and can make some individuals feel worse. Some of these errors include expecting someone to only think optimistically, or to ignore the circumstantial stressors they experience. Furthermore, Eysenck (1998) posited that when the nervous system is overwhelmed by external stressors, this causes an increase of the release of corticosteroids (stress hormones) and when too many corticosteroids are released, the immune, endocrine, and circulatory systems can malfunction. So the awareness of the potential repercussions of prolonged psychological torture, or PE is not new, and many of those who engage in such activities know that what they are doing is perceived as harmful by others (actus reus) and if they continue doing it nevertheless, then there might also be a guilty intent behind such decisions (mens rea; Palmer, 2018).
It is dangerously equivocal on one hand to call avoidance of suffering a problem, and on the other hand wonder why people are self-harming. For example, Wager (2015) explained that only 1 in 800 cases of child sexual abuse make it to child protection services, which means that most of the victims of such henious acts grow with the trauma they experienced, and recreating their sexual abuse not only would be illegal, but it would only make things worse for them. This is why PE can have disastrous consequences for those who are severely traumatised. Moreover, expecting someone who has endured sexual abuse to stop avoiding their worst fears would be irrational; and such confusion could potentially lead the individual into further traumatic circumstances and relationships, or to suicide, which is not that uncommon in the UK nowadays. For instance, according to Samaritans (2019) there were 6,859 suicides in the UK in 2018. This was a ‘significant’, and tragic increase in rates from previous years. The cruel nature of everyday mental health misconceptions might have contributed towards such results (Kinderman, 2015). The ambiguous messages sent by certain frameworks can leave people feeling hopeless, confused and neglected, a prerequisite for suicidal ideation. Compassion, however, could save lives (Kinderman, 2015:291). So in the case of BPD with comorbid PTS, a treatment going wrong is often blamed on the patient rather than on the health system. It is a paradox because the mere action of the patient complaining is categorised as a symptom, rather than as a rational response to a painful, unfair, and/or stressful trigger. This is why taking into account socio-environmental stressors should not be an exclusively academic matter, but rather a general rule for the prevention of inhumane and degrading treatment. Nevertheless, it is good that Sword and Zimbardo (2018) display a well-intentioned contribution to the development of more effective mental health apps, a topic that is beyond the scope and capacity of this document.
To summarise, Sword and Zimbardo’s (2018) work as cited in the Open University (2019) mentions PE as one of the traditional forms of therapy used to treat PTS; nevertheless, they seem to attribute most problems to human cognition, rather than to situational factors. Furthermore, they seem to be deleteriously equivocal when they use the criteria for anhedonia to describe resentment, without providing satisfactory evidence to support their claims. Finally, they describe avoidant responses as a symptom, rather than as an everyday behaviour. However, research has shown that avoiding certain situations is rational, and mental health frameworks should take this into consideration when treating severely traumatised individuals, instead of speculating and risking someone’s physical integrity to death.
American Psychiatric Association (2013a) ‘Posttraumatic stress disorder, in Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed, Arlington, pp. 271-280.
Boer, H. and Seydel, E. R. (1996) ‘Protection motivation theory’, Conner, M. and Norman, P. (eds), Predicting Health Behaviour, Buckingham, Open University Press, pp. 95-120.
Cherry, S. and Barker, M. J. (2015) ‘Self-help: changing people’s understandings to change their experience’, in Turner, J. and Barker, M. J. (eds), Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 227-259.
Kinderman, P. (2015) ‘Beyond disorder: a psychological model of mental health’, in Crighton D. A. and Towl, G. J. (eds), Forensic Psychology, 2nd edn, West Sussex, John Wiley and Sons, The British Psychological Society, pp. 291-300.
Palmer, E. J. (2018) ‘Psychological approaches to understanding crime’, in Davies, G. M. and Beech, A. R. (eds), Forensic Psychology: Crime, Justice, Law, Interventions, 3rd ed, West Sussex, The British Psychological Society/John Wiley & Sons, pp. 27-47.
Wager, N. M. (2015) ‘The psychology of extreme circumstances’, in Turner, J. and Barker, M. J. (eds), Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 139-178.
The world is in chaos. The coronavirus has accelerated at an unprecedented rate, leaving planet Earth feeling vulnerable and in a state of collective sorrow. Things have never been like this. Unless you are over 100 years old, you have never witnessed this level of transnosological danger in your entire life. Due to the panic-ridden headlines, many people are experiencing an aversion to potential loss or potential grief. Others seem to be in denial. Where is the balance? This article aims to explore some of the facts, figures, and dynamics determining coronavirus-associated behaviour.
“Protection motivation theory describes adaptive and maladaptive coping with a health threat as the result of two appraisal processes: threat appraisal and coping appraisal“.
The threat is perceived by the public as extremely severe and unprecedented. Here in the United Kingdom it has been set as high risk; and this is why Primer Minister Boris Johnson has enforced the draconian lockdown (Cabinet Office, 2020). The virus is very contagious, and due to the increasing death rates people are feeling very susceptible with this disease threatening their physical integrity, and potentially their life or the life of those whom they love. Nevertheless, it must be objectively said that 95% of recorded cases worldwide report mild symptoms. Yet, from mild symptoms have arisen many deaths.
How susceptible am I to the threat?
It seems that among the high risk groups are people over 80 years old, those with underlying health conditions, and smokers with chronic pulmonary problems. Furthermore, according to the United Nations (2020): “The risk depends on where you are – and more specifically, whether there is a COVID-19 outbreak unfolding there”. In other words, demographic variables will indicate the level of risk in specific areas. For instance, the South West area where I live in the UK is the area with the lowest risk of contamination (GOV.UK, 2020b), and my city (Plymouth) has only 26 cases so far (O’Leary, 2020). Furthermore, commenting on the safety of packages and deliveries, the UN (2020) further states: “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low”. So if you are concerned about me, don’t worry, I am ready.
How is the virus appraised by the global government?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the world about the fact that no antibiotics, no medication, and no vaccination has proven to prevent or cure the coronavirus. Therefore, they appraise this as a serious situation.
Mental health experts understand that this is without a doubt a stress-generative situation. The uncertainty that COVID-19 triggers is in many cases inevitable. Furthermore, the unpredictability and uncontrollability that manifest with the facts and figures are a source of anxiety for many people. Nevertheless, this does not mean that pre-emptive and preventive action cannot be taken. The GOV and the WHO have issued specific guidance which can help reduce the hazard and intensity of the situation. Sanitary action is in this case reasoned action, and this can be planned, performed, and maintained in order to cope with the threat in an adaptive way. Moreover, because this is an extraordinary situation which has disrupted the standard routines of many people, there is a certain level of confusion, fear, and worry. Remember to:
Wash your hands with soap as frequently as possible for 20 seconds.
Stay indoors unless it is absolutely necessary to go out to seek medical care.
Order groceries online as infrequently as possible instead of going to the shop (even though online deliveries are the least unsafe option, there is still a risk of contamination through such medium).
INTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL: Factors which can be totally controlled by and depend solely on the individual.
EXTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL: Factors which can’t be controlled by and do not depend on the individual.
(Norman and Conner, 1996).
I see people behaving like nothing is happening. Am I too paranoid?
No. What you see happening is a state of collective denial. People keep going to work, doing physical exercise outdoors, and attending social gatherings because they are underestimating the severity of the threat. The kind of self-absorption that is dominant in individualistic, Western societies is an intellectual disadvantage in this case which requires an analysis of global events and behaviour. It only takes analysing what is happening in China, the US, Italy and Spain to understand that due to the incubation period of the virus (up to 2-3 weeks; Worldometers, 2020) it is quite possible that the COVID-19 is having a delayed impact in the UK. The virus does survive a long time in the air, meaning that it can be breathed quite easily. This is why a two metre distance is advised. Those behaving as if nothing was happening are not able to rationalise the threat because being able to move around gives them a false sense of being in control of the situation. In my opinion, it is an unnecessary risk they are taking. Similarly, those going to work outside the emergency system are still playing down the risk.
According to Norman and Conner (1996), the more an individual perceives potential health susceptibility, and the more that the threat is perceived to be severe, the more fear arousal there is. This means that the way people respond to the outbreak will depend on their level of awareness about the high risk the coronavirus poses. For instance, here in the UK there are more deaths than recoveries, and the counter for recoveries has been stuck at 135 (GOV.UK, 2020b) for several days already, unlike the counters for new cases and deaths, which keep burgeoning. This is problematic and worrisome. So if you are feeling too paranoid and as if you are being too careful, rest assured that you are just being as careful and responsible as you and everyone else are expected to be.
What can I do to calm down?
This is a good question, as everything functions better when people remain calm. There are many variables that are within your locus of control, such as the way you interpret the situation (perception) which can be optimised by engaging in intellectually stimulating activities such as reading, watching films, or having conversations. The more you learn, the more confident you will feel in assessing risk, and the more you will engage in reasoned behaviours that promote health and prevent disease. Another variable that you can control and nourish in yourself is your emotional wellbeing, which can be enhanced by ensuring that you get enough sleep (this will also boost your immune system, and will therefore help you fight off infections; NHS.UK, 2018), that you eat well, and that you have a tidy and clean environment around you. If you have long-term conditions, it is necessary that you continue to take your prescribed medications during this time in order to keep healthy. Furthermore, remember that you have the capacity of preventing contamination by following the guidance. Successfully executing the recommended courses of action will help you feel self-efficient and safe. Engage in some yoga or pilates at home, entertain yourself, and stay in touch with your family and friends digitally. Keep the following points in mind:
Neither underestimate nor overestimate the magnitude of the situation. Stay tuned for the facts and figures.
Plan for short to medium term supplies and associated variables of a lockdown.
Mental contagion can happen if you allocate too much time and attention to digital material which is sensationalist or misinformed. Be wise about the type of information you consume.
Double check that your beliefs about what is healthy are not based on misinformation. Here are some myth busters to keep in mind:
What factors are not under my control?
There are several variables that could become a source of frustration during the lockdown. Anything that is outside your mind, and outside your environment is outside your control. You are not responsible for the behaviour of others, and the best thing you can do is share the guidance with your loved ones and hope that they follow it. Moreover, you have no current participation in most of the decision-making processes of the jurisdiction (e.g. the legal measures being duly taken by the GOV in relation to this pandemic). If you are not able to work from home, and cannot make money as a result, you might feel like everything is going to collapse, and in such case all you can do is hope that the GOV will protect your welfare, as such decision is within their locus of control. If you are a key worker, you might feel that your life is being put at risk in order to save the life of others. All you can do is hope that the GOV will listen to the healthcare industry in regards to the much needed protective equipment, spaces, and ventilators. This too is within the GOV’s locus of control. For example, medical staff in Spain are being forced to sedate and asphyxiate the elderly to death in order to use their ventilators on younger patients. Because providing equipment is a decision which only the Spanish political leaders can make, doctors are having a psychological breakdown and are accusing the authorities of genocide for neglecting the welfare of vulnerable citizens. Take a look at this video:
If you are a student of psychology, you might have already come across Professor Loftus’ work on eyewitness memory. She is the pop star and hollywood personality within the field of forensic psychology, and has served as an expert witness in high profile cases such as Ted Bundy and more recently Harvey Weinstein (Associated Press in New York, 2020). Furthermore, Professor Loftus’ work has become highly controversial, and has caused many reactions from victims due to her experiments on eyewitness memory, and how unreliable episodic memory actually is. Her book Witness for the Defense: The Accused, the Eyewitness, and the Expert Who Puts Memory on Trial (1991) narrates her experience working with defendants in the criminal justice system, whilst also delighting the reader with the theory of her experiments and findings.
“There is a generally accepted theory in our field that memory doesn’t work like a videotape recorder. We don’t record an event and then play it back later. The process is much more complex […] In such circumstances there is an increased risk that an innocent person will be convicted […] One of the most obvious reasons for forgetting is that the information was never stored in memory in the first place; even the most common, everyday items frequently fail to find a niche in our memory […] With the passage of time, with proper motivation, or with the introduction of interfering or contradictory facts, the memory traces change or become transformed, often without our conscious awareness”
Selected excerpts from Loftus and Ketcham (1991, pp. 4-17)
Recently The Guardian wrote a news report about Harvey Weinstein’s trial and described the situation as follows: “Lawyers for Harvey Weinstein turned on Friday to an expert known for studying false, repressed and unreliable memories who has worked on behalf of clients including the serial killer Ted Bundy” (Associated Press in New York, 2020). Needless to say there are many critiques of Professor Loftus due to her tendency to work for the defense instead of the prosecution, and this has led to journalists wondering why such is the case. For students of forensic psychology like me, there are a series of questions that only her books can answer. I truly recommend this book to those seeking to understand eyewitness memory better, and also those seeking to learn about the behind the scenes of the criminal justice system.
Relevant Questions & Answers
Why work for the defense instead of the prosecution?
Professor Loftus is highly concerned with justice, and prefers to prevent injustice by studying cases meticulously and scientifically. Having already been involved in cases where a potentially innocent person got a death sentence after biased procedures (e.g. Demjanjuk; Loftus and Ketcham, 1991), Dr. Loftus knows the importance of the presumption of innocence. Many studies conducted on eyewitness memory have demonstrated that memories are vulnerable to distortion and contamination. Hindsight bias and post-event information (misinformation effect) are particularly important concepts when trying to understand why miscarriages of justice have occurred in the history of the western societies and their criminal justice systems. In regards to this, her book states: “Although witnesses try hard to identify the true criminal, when they are uncertain- or when no one person in the lineup exactly matches their memory- they will often identify the person who best matches their recollection of the criminal. And often their choice is wrong” (p. 23). This has become a general rule of thumb and a system variable when investigating cases from a psychological perspective. “But in a stressed mind, under intense pressure to come up with someone who could be blamed for this horrible crime, those connections could have been created, welded together by fear and pain and a desire to be done with it all, to stop thinking, to find an answer, a solution” (p. 191)
Why did she defend Ted Bundy as he is not innocent?
According to her book, when Bundy’s lawyer contacted her, he described the case to her as relevant to her work, and as if the prosecution had an “extremely weak case” against his client. Back then she had not heard the name “Theodore Robert Bundy”, and did not know that the famous “Ted cases” were related to him, and it was in 1975 that John O’Connell (Bundy’s solicitor) consulted her in regards to the kidnapping charge against him. At the time, Bundy was a law student in Seattle, and his profile was surprisingly charismatic to the point where it was very difficult to imagine him committing such terrible acts. Dr. Loftus did not expect what came after that, and describes being surprised about this case and remembers having a conversation with O’Connell where she explained her theory: “First, the acquisition stage, in which the perception of the original event is put into the memory system; second, the retention stage, the period of time that passes between the event and the recollection of a particular piece of information; and third, the retrieval stage, in which a person recalls stored information” (p. 77). Furthermore, she describes her impression of Ted Bundy’s death as follows: “The scene switched to an interview with Ted Bundy the night before his electrocution. Prison had removed the arrogance from his smile, sharpening his features. The eyes seemed deeper set, the nose longer and straighter, the creases in his forehead permanently etched […] I felt lightheaded, slightly sick to my stomach” (pp. 90-91). Professor Loftus recalls wondering what would have happened if her expert contribution had led to an acquittal in Utah, and seemed to be distressed about the entire situation as more evidence accumulated about Bundy.
What common cognitive biases does Dr. Loftus study?
Professor Loftus conducts holistic investigations. There are many variables that she analyses, but all of them together are beyond the scope of this article. However, she does mention some of these in the book: “I hit the return key on my computer three times and typed in the words photo-biased identification […] Unconscious transference was the third item on my list […]Next on my list was time estimates. Jurors are aware that memory is better when you have a longer time to look at something, but they are often not aware that later, when a witness tries to estimate how long a particular event lasted, there is a strong tendency to overestimate its durations […] Confidence. Like most people, jurors tend to believe there is a strong relationship between how confident a witness is and how accurate he or she is” (pp. 169-170). In a nutshell, she is a memory expert. “
An example: “We’ve shown people a simulated bank robbery that lasts for half a minute and they will say it lasted for five minutes, eight minutes, even ten minutes. In one experiment people saw an event that lasted four minutes and they said it lasted ten minutes; some said twenty minutes. There is a very strong tendency in the memory to enlarge these complex and stressful events so that they appear to have occurred over a longer period of time than they really did […] Unconscious transference is the mistaken recollection or confusion of a person seen in one situation with a person who has been seen in a different situation. But what is happening here is the merging of an image of a person seen in one situation with a totally different incident. And that is an important phenomenon. Many people do not realise how easy it is for an ‘unconscious transference’ to occur, to take a person with your memory of an experience that happened at a different time” (pp. 200-201).
What is her view on penology and prisons?
Dr. Loftus’ position about penal punishment within the criminal justice system can be appreciated with her closing statement on the Ted Bundy chapter: “Bundy was guilty; there was no longer any doubt about the fact. But he was also a human being, and now he was dead. Where, I wondered, is the triumph, the glory in that” (p. 91). I interpret such statement in the context of human rights law (Equality & Human Rights Commission, 2018), with the right to life being relevant when it comes to capital punishment.
Were the deaths of Steve Titus and Detective Parker correlated?
Last year I emailed Professor Loftus to inquire about her chapter Dark Justice: Steve Titus, about one of the clients she defended, and who was wrongfully convicted of rape. It was a case of bureaucratic corruption. At the end of the chapter, Professor Loftus narrates the following events: “On February 8, 1985, eleven days before he would have faced his tormentors in court, Steve Titus died. He was thirty-five years old […] On June 8, 1987, six years to the day after Titus’ conviction was overturned, Detective Ronald Parker was found slumped next to his gym locker, dead of a heart attack. He was forty-three years old” (p. 60). I asked her whether she wanted to imply a potential correlation between these two deaths, or whether she just wanted to make a historical record. Thirteen days later I received a reply from her where she explained that Titus had died of a heart attack due to the stress he had gone through, and that she was not sure what happened in the case of the detective. Moreover, she said that both, Steve Titus and the detective are buried near each other in the Washington Memorial Cemetery in New York (Anderson, 1991), which is quite ironic.
Can you mention an experiment conducted by Professor Loftus on memory?
Yes, I can indeed. She actually summarises her experiment on semantics in the book: “I hesitated for a moment, trying to decide whether to tell Kurzman about an earlier experiment I’d conducted with adult subjects who watched a film clip of an automobile accident and then were interviewed and asked suggestive questions. By using the verb ‘smash’ instead of ‘hit’, we were able to change not only the subjects’ estimate of the speed of the cars when the accident occurred, but also the probability of reporting broken glass- even though there was no broken glass in our interviews. This particular experiment supported the theory that the subjects experienced an actual change in the original memory” (p. 137).
Irrelevant Questions & Answers
Why did she defend Harvey Weinstein as he is not innocent?
Even though this is not in the book, I see this is along the same lines of why she defended Ted Bundy. Professor Loftus’ work focuses mainly on how people absorb information (learn), store events, and retrieve such details later on. So her involvement in such high profile cases has to do with ruling out the common cognitive and procedural biases found in estimator and system variables of eyewitness accounts and processes; which for her is a fairly straightforward, algorithmic, and systematic, reliable procedure. From what I understand, Harvey was found guilty of 2/5 allegations. This means that Professor Loftus had to make sure that all processes regarding the accusations were put through rigorous scientific methods for mitigation, as well as the examination of potential contamination in the memories of both, accusers and the defendant. This process often involves a detailed episodic, chronological reconstruction of the crime and the parties involved. As an expert witness, Loftus has a duty to be impartial, professional and objective about human memory. This means that her defendant was found guilty of actually sexually assaulting two of the five victims, and only these two accounts were successful in proving consistency in episodic recall. In other words, having Loftus study the case means that it is undeniable to the jury that Weinstein did do those two things, but that it was not proven that he did do those other three things beyond reasonable doubt (Levenson, 2020).
Does all this mean that Professor Loftus does not support the #MeToo movement?
No, that is not what all this means. All this simply means that Professor Loftus had to mitigate human memory empirically in order to clarify to the best of her ability as a scientist what really happened in Hollywood. Expert witnesses tend to be demonised due to the controversial work they carry out. Nevertheless, nothing of the mentioned above is evidence that she is anti-feminist.
My personal favourite:
“It is a fine line I walk as a psychologist in a court of law. While the debate about guilt and innocence is waged with passion and partisan zeal, it is my task to deal with the facts. As an expert witness, the facts I must deal with extend beneath the surface, deeper than the newspaper headlines, deeper even than the confidential police reports and the court transcripts. I am privy to the defense lawyer’s strategy; I’ve read the victims’ descriptions of the accused; I know the sordid and intimate details of the crimes; I’ve viewed the lineups and listened to tape-recorded interviews. But still there are facts I will never hear, details that are beyond my expertise or concern. The defense attorneys tell me what they want me to know, selecting only the facts I will need in order to testify. I do not have access to the prosecutor’s files. I rarely have the opportunity to talk at length with the defendant. And I don’t venture into the jury room to hear their confidential and privileged conversations about guilt, innocence, and reasonable doubt” (p. 241).
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5, pp. 87-88), psychotic disorders are clusters of key symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, among other things. Moreover, the DSM-5 defines delusions as “fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence”, and hallucinations as “perception-like experiences that occur without an external stimulus”. Furthermore, Davey (2018) explains that the symptoms of psychosis can often leave individuals “feeling frightened and confused” (p. 237), and that “sufferers frequently believe that their thoughts are being interfered with or controlled in some way” (p. 239).
There are different types of delusions: persecutory (paranoia), grandiose (narcissistic), control (feeling controlled or manipulated by external forces), referential (thinking that the media, advertisements, news and events are all in some way giving cues about oneself, as if everyone else “knew”), nihilistic (beliefs that go beyond the scope of existence as we know it. This could include thinking that one does not exist any more), and erotomanic (the delusional belief that someone is in love with oneself, regardless of whether they actually have met the person or not). Even though all these types of manifestations often overlap, it is delusions of persecution and delusions of reference that I will be highlighting in this post.
Please note this is not a critique of the Youtuber, his personality, integrity, or his work. I have not watched the videos. This analysis is specifically in relation to the name and the cover art of the channel, as well as about Youtube’s liability for managing and preventing these deadly risks.
As I was scrolling and scrolling on Youtube trying to find something to watch, I came across a recommendation from a channel titled They Will Kill You. I instantly thought: Wow, if I still was suffering from psychosis, just being exposed to such recommendation would have caused me great internal distress, confusion, and maybe even a crisis. So I decided to explore the channel, and noticed that the cover art states It wants to kill you, whilst showcasing a picture of a person hung off a tree by their neck. In other words, a picture of suicide by hanging. Such a combination of design is the perfect recipe for having to create stricter regulatory protocols in the digital world. The content elicits feelings of paranoia, persecution, and suicidal ideation. Moreover, I predict that in the future, such technical neglects might be classed as manslaughter, or as assisted suicide should anyone die; both of which are classed as criminal acts in the UK. So let’s get serious about this.
If a person has delusions of persecution, they might think that the reason why nobody is trying to help them is because people want him or her to kill themselves, and if such delusions of persecution are mixed with delusions of reference, the person might feel that this Youtube channel is part of the “conspiracy”. For example, they might already be thinking that their upstairs neighbours are trying to kill them (Eysenck, 2000) through enforced psychological torture designed to trigger their suicidal desires. And being exposed to the name of this channel and to the cover art might lead them to assume that their paranoid delusions are undeniable, and might actually reinforce their schema to go forward with suicide whilst thinking that they have no other choice, and that such are everyone’s wishes. In another possible fatal case scenario, a person might be experiencing complex and bizarre events (Eysenck, 2000) and this type of digital content might serve as an anchor for what can be homicidal acts. Furthermore, Fisher et al. (2018) explained that relapse and recidivism can be triggered by psychosocial stressors. I would like to reinforce this whilst also including digital stressors.
Pilgrim (2015, p. 222) states: “Those with a diagnosis of mental illness are predominantly described in the mass media as a risk to others. However, collectively psychiatric patients are at far greater risk from others and to themselves, as victims of crime and exploitation and from self-harm […] the risk of violence increases with the presence of positive not negative symptoms”. With this statement I rest my case about the necessity for safer algorithms.
Call to Action:
This channel’s name and cover picture are an example of the high risk potential to trigger distress in people within the psychosis spectrum due to the unpredictability of YouTube’s algorithms. Moreover, considering the mental health crises we are facing here in the UK, I strongly recommend that there is more regulation of potentially deadly risks. I also recommend for this user to be encouraged to change the name of the channel to one that is less threatening. Youtube should hire the necessary professionals to manage these complexities.
To summarise, as human beings living in an age of mental health and environmental crises, preventing suicide or homicide should be a common goal in society. Any death that can be prevented should be prevented.
If you or anyone you know know is having suicidal thoughts, please call 999. Alternatively, call Samaritans on 116 123, or email them to email@example.com
American Psychiatric Association (2013), Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed, pp. 87-118.
Davey, G. (2018) Psychopathology, West Sussex, British Psychological Society and John Wiley & Sons, pp. 238-284.
Eysenck, M.W. (2000) Psychology: A Student Handbook, East Sussex, Psychology Press Ltd, pp. 671-703.
Pilgrim, D. (2015) ‘Aspects of Diagnosed Mental Illness and Offending’, in Crighton , D. A. and Towl, G. J. (eds), Forensic Psychology, 2nd ed, pp. 215-224.
Fisher, D., Ginty, M., Sandhu, J. and Galappathe, N. (2018) ‘Interventions with Mentally Disordered Offenders’, in Davies, G.M. and Beech, A.R. (eds), Forensic Psychology: Crime, Justice, Law, Interventions, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, pp. 639-657.
Psychopathy is a much debated topic in psychology. A lot of people are wondering nowadays what the difference is between a psychopath, a narcissist, and a sociopath. Because these terms tend to overlap with each other in meaning, there are models created in forensic psychology to illustrate the varied manifestations of this condition, which is often diagnosed in psychiatry as antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). This essay will focus on the word “psychopath” as a concept and will try to explain how those with psychopathic behaviours can be detected. After reading this article, you should be able to:
Understand what the existing subtypes of psychopathy are.
Understand the difference between primary psychopathy and secondary psychopathy (sociopathy).
Understand the current debate in forensic psychology about the topic.
Spot the narcissistic side of psychopaths.
Because this is such a complex topic which is beyond the scope of one single post, I will in the future expand on these maladaptations which are permeating the status quo. For instance, the local newspaper has been increasingly reporting fairly recent fire incidents in Plymouth which are suspected arson incidents (Preston-Ellis, 2020). As a student of forensic psychology, I think this is truly a worrisome situation, as arson has been for a long time a hallmark of psychopathy; and to see that such symptoms are becoming an epidemic poses numerous serious questions about public health.
Gillespie and Mitchell (2018, p. 85) describe psychopaths as “outwardly normal, but nonetheless extremely callous and unable to express remorse or guilt, to the point where they seemed to be devoid of human emotion”. Moreover, they have contributed to the contentious debate of whether psychopaths are capable of feeling anxiety at all. The first subtypes of antisocial personality disorder that emerged were primary psychopathy and secondary psychopathy. Secondary psychopathy is less prototypical, and its manifestations can be confused with other personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD). Primary psychopaths are unable to feel fear or anxiety (Gillespie and Mitchell, 2018), and their brains have serious neurodevelopmental deficits; whereas secondary psychopaths are perceived as being capable of having social anxiety traits and depression. There is much neuropsychological research about primary psychopathy emphasising the role of the brain in such lack of ability to experience the primary emotions that all animals with a limbic system can experience. For instance, Durães and Borralho (2017, p. S681) stated:
“Defects in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex have been implicated in the pathological basis of psychopathy. The most affected areas are the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC) and the associated anterior cingulated cortex. Alterations in connectivity between the amygdala and the VMPC with other areas of the brain have been demonstrated and seem to be responsible for the non-empathetic, unemotional, and amoral features of psychopaths”
According to Duggan and Howard (2015), there are four types of psychopaths. This has been illustrated in a model containing all subtypal characteristics. Even though this model covers a wide range of traits, it is still a contentious topic, and the psychopathy debate requires clearer and more consistent transnosological definitions in order to elucidate the construct for the layperson. Not all mental health professionals think similarly, and whether psychopaths can be socially anxious and vulnerable continues to fuel the cycle of enquiry.
Zooming into the above information and adopting an interpersonal context for analysis, here are a few signs that could alert you of the possibility of knowing a psychopath in your life. Some of these traits might already be familiar to you, especially if you read online psychology magazines such as Psychology Today (n.d) which often cover these types of topics. Because ALL psychopaths are narcissistic, we will focus on this consistent trait across models to interpret their behaviours:
This person will mistake your kindness for weakness. He or she will think that you are kind because they tricked you into being nice. A false belief that leads them to react explosively once you say “no” to a whim. This is a narcissistic injury for the malignant person.
The malicious person will also deliberately prey on those they perceive to have greater advantage over, especially if they are also severely addicted to a substance. The addictive personality will manifest in the most dysfunctional, and antisocial way when intoxicated.
Secondary psychopaths have the capacity to feel anxiety and fear, unlike the primary psychopath (see Ted Bundy for the iconic primary prototype). They are essentially what people call “sociopaths”, and they can experience states of narcissistic melancholia when they go through inconvenient circumstances, or when things do not go their way. They tend to have a weak superego, and are unable to understand how their anger management problems were formed, interpreting these types of behaviours as normal.
Relevant Questions & Answers
Do all psychopaths commit crimes?
No, the reality is that there are many psychopaths who choose careers where they can develop their moral side. These psychopaths do not become dysfunctional, especially if they were raised in a relatively healthy environment. It is dysfunctional psychopaths that often make it to the criminal justice system, and who specialise in criminal careers. Controlled psychopaths, however, can succeed and thrive.
Why do they treat people like that?
These extreme personalities depend on all types of self-justifications, and their grandiose narcissistic side is actively concerned with trying to deceive the other person because they cannot use reason to assess their irrational behaviour, and cannot pinpoint their own inconsistencies. Especially in the case of the grandiose secondary psychopath, as this person tends to consider themselves “good”, “educated”, and “evolved”; but because they cannot tap into the social constructionism of these terms, and because they think that everyone else is stupid, they are less willing to receive knowledge and information that challenges whatever they have determined themselves to believe, regardless of the evidence (e.g. doing class A drugs because this person is “immune”, when as a matter of fact they are not immune, and they simply have not done their research about substance tolerance). They are extremely sensitive to any situation which reveals their mental problems (because this person does not even know that their issues are obviously wrong), and they don’t like changing because they think they are superior, and fine as they are.
What is a good person in their opinion?
For the malignant personality, a good person is anyone who does not offend, insult, or accidentally outsmart… them. As long as you are soothing their narcissistic needs, you are lovely. You must always do the right thing, and the right thing to do for the malicious person is to please their demands. Not meeting such expectations can trigger the worst in them.
Do they change?
Rarely. As a matter of fact, that’s how you can recognise the malignant personality. They hate to have to change, and expect the world to adjust to them instead. They think they deserve all the entitlement they get, and are often willing to use coercion rather than hard work for many purposes. Truth is too painful for the narcissist, so they prefer to think everyone else is abnormal, even though that’s not how truth and democracy works mathematically, so they avoid changing and often severely damage those who try to help.
How about their childhood… Should I care?
Whilst it is true that dark personalities are created in truly traumatic childhoods, some do even become worse than their parents. Secondary psychopaths are at times constantly re-living their childhoods, and can show signs of regressive behaviour, suggesting that there might be a relationship between specific childhood fixations and reaction formation being displaced towards those who are more vulnerable than them, just like their childhood felt.
How can these individuals function socially?
It would require daily socialisation and intensive community support. In most cases, it is a personality disorder, not a mental disorder. This means that progress for the sociopath would entail first developing environmental and social skills. These individuals can be highly inconsistent (on one side they might claim to love Earth, but on the other side they might litter their own homes, not recycle, and live in truly filthy and abnormal conditions). Furthermore, if a psychopath becomes dysfunctional and notorious, then this might be a result of their childhood experiences, their circumstances, or their mental health. As stated above, there are many psychopaths who lead normal, functional, and even moral lives. They are able to learn how normality works, and are intelligent enough to know that breaking the law is a subtle prediction for bad consequences. The dysfunctional psychopaths are a minority.
What’s the UK GOV doing to provide forensic rehabilitation for psychopaths?
When malignant personalities go as far as causing criminal harm, the court might order them to attend psychotherapy. Apart from that, not much is done to protect these people (and their victims) from making decisions that are harmful to themselves or others. Truth is that it is often when something goes terribly wrong that these personalities come to the attention of the authorities. Until then, there is rarely any concern, as the GOV tends to prioritise public safety over individual wellbeing and crisis prevention; as well as security over treatment. So this is a really unfortunate situation in the UK.
Disclaimer: Please note that there are many other conditions which may cause a person to behave in ways that are antisocial, such as psychosis. If you or someone you know is acting in an abnormal way, and have been diagnosed with a mental disorder; it is most likely that they are having a crisis, and need professional intervention. Call 999 if anyone is at risk of hurting themselves or others.
Duggan, C. and Howard, R. (2015) ‘Personality Disorders: Assessment and Treatment’, in Chrighton, D.A. and Towl, G.J. (eds), Forensic Psychology, 2nd ed, West Sussex, British Psychological Society/ John Wiley & Sons, pp. 265-288.
Gillespie, S. M. and Mitchell, I.J. (2018) ‘Psychopathy’, in Davies, G.M. and Beech, A.R. (eds), Forensic Psychology: Crime, Justice, Law, Interventions, 3rd ed, West Sussex, British Psychological Society/ John Wiley & Sons, pp. 85-100.
For a while, I had been looking for an app that immediately had a foundational, cognitively constructive effect on my experience. I must say this is not an app to go to if you are having a mental health crisis. Instead, it is an app that works wonders for anyone with a workload. Since human memory can be so unreliable as demonstrated by Loftus’ work on eyewitness and episodic memory, and being a student of Forensic Psychology, I wanted an app that soothed the academic in me, and that helped me successfully make sense of my thoughts, which are many; I mean, let’s be honest, I am a student, and I am an artist; and I have to think a lot about my future because I am trying to implement my plan of action to upgrade my quality of life, and to improve my mental health in the evergreen way. And well, that entails absorbing a lot of information. This is why I would like to recommend the app PM-cube. Every single time I use the app, there are immediate constructive results.
Relevant Questions & Answers
Here are some questions you might be wondering in relation to what I mean about academic mental health.
Is this a ‘relax and meditate’ app?
No, at least not in the conventional way. I am a university student, I don’t have the time, money or luxury to relax. If I relax for too long, I freak out. The only thing that gives me inner peace is to learn more about lifeology, and to develop the skills necessary to sustain myself in peace with people and the environment. If you, like me, have been feeling stuck in uncertain times; then this app might help you premeditate, and boost your executive functions.
But, is this app designed for mental health?
I don’t know at this stage what the intent was with the creation of the app; however, I assume that it was designed to help people manage their lives and projects better. I have found it very helpful when I am feeling stuck. It makes a difference, and gets me out of the cognitive paralysis that can happen when I have 99 problems and finding an app that works for me is just 1 of them.
Will it work for every academic?
Probably not, although I assume that most academics are very busy people, so maybe it will soothe them.
What is an academic?
Funny you ask. According to the Macquarie Dictionary (2017), an academic is a person who is “a teacher or a researcher in a university or college”. For instance, Professor Loftus is an academic who is very much loved and respected internationally for all of her contributions to psychology and criminology (and who gave expert testimony for Ted Bundy‘s defence in court).
Should I meditate?
Meditation does not work for me, but premeditation does. Nevertheless, just because it does not work for me, it does not mean that it will not work for you. However, if meditation apps are NOT what you are looking for, then you should defo try PM-CUBE (Marxer, 2015).
Are you okay?
Absolutely. Thanks for asking. Life is going relatively steady, and PM-Cube really helps me make it better.
Is this an ad?
No. I actually think this app is truly helpful. Hopefully you will find it helpful too.
According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (n.d.), psychological violence includes “isolation from others, verbal aggression, threats, intimidation, control, harassment […] insults, humiliation and defamation”. This essay discusses how challenging the status quo is key to advancing global development and peace by extrapolating research conducted by Oates, Edgar and Edgar, and Custance (2012); to recent world events. “Forensic psychologists […] are well placed to challenge inappropriate policies and practices” (Towl and Crighton, 2015, p. 9).
The idea that psychology could be used to design better systems is not new (Edgar and Edgar, 2012). Many people choose to ignore the deep side of policy, and instead attend to more superficial aspects, why is that? This type of selective attention is considered to be a form of bias (Seguin, 2016). Research conducted by psychologists in the 1950s and 1960s as explored by Edgar and Edgar (2012), gave light to how difficult it can be for the human mind to attend to several stimuli simultaneously. This might explain why individuals choose to overlook complex signals such as “injustice”, especially since the definition of “justice” is socially constructed (Faulkner, 2015). The meaning people extract from media stories influences the importance they attribute to such events; and this is shaped by their expectations, political memory filters, and cognitive styles (Edgar and Edgar, 2012; Değirmenci and Kaya, 2018). For instance, although media coverage of Brexit gained full attention from the UK public, it generated confusion at the status quo level; eliciting confounding variables such as division, conscious racial prejudice, and ideologically driven violence (OHCHR, 2018). It can be said that such unpredictable uncertainty hit the nervous system of the UK (Mohdin, 2019; Bailey and Budd, 2019; Ishkanian, 2019), causing interference and overwhelming the collective capacity to process the magnitude of the situation at hand.
The two-process theories of attention describe: (1) controlled attention as being conscious; and (2) automatic processing as being subconscious (Edgar and Edgar, 2012). Allocating cognitive resources to select what to attend to functions in a similar way to economies, where governments must select and prioritise meaningful aspects that need attending to. For instance, there are problems that do not make it to the priority list in governmental debates, and what is considered a priority is always at the discretion of the legislature (GOV.UK, n.d.a). It is often the resulting circumstances that speak about whether the allocation of resources was appropriate. Broadbent’s (1958) model as explained by Edgar and Edgar (2012) highlighted how information is absorbed and filtered through the limited capacity channel after the senses discriminate inputs based on the stimuli’s physical properties or meaning; and how the mind can become overwhelmed with too much data. This resembles the information processing system of the state apparatus. Some stories get magnified by the media, and others become peripherally encoded (Smith et al., 2018). This has been criticised by human rights defenders (Maier, 2019) as it is clear that media content and representation, as well as spoken words have an effect on societal behaviour (Edgar and Edgar, 2012; Kennedy, 2007), and the audience can either allocate attention to the local media, the global media, or both (Beck, 2018). “Words have consequences, and ill words that go unchallenged, are the first step on a continuum towards ill deeds” (Theresa May gives speech on the state of politics, 2019).
Bandura et al. (1963) cited in Oates (2012) demonstrated through the famous Bobo doll studies how exposure to violence can lead to aggressive behaviours. Several aspects of social learning (observing and copying other people’s behaviour) were explored, among which were: (1) the replication of violent behaviour (imitative aggression); and (2) the selective replication of specific forms of behaviour (partial imitative responses) (Oates, 2012). In light of such evidence, more researchers have added that overexposure to media violence also elicits social disinhibition and desensatisation (Oates, 2012; Marris and Thornham, 2000); increasing tolerance towards aggressive conceptual systems, attitudes, and predispositions. Milgram (1960; 1963; 1965) explored the psychology of destructive obedience in everyday life and Adorno et al. (1950) explored the role of authoritarian prejudice in society. Almost 70 years later, such retrogressive manifestations are resurfacing and permeating the status quo.
For example, The Guardian has been reporting the topic of xenophobia in the UK, which has two convergent strands of continuity. On one hand, more people are exhibiting antisemitic attitudes similar to WWII (Mason, 2019), and on the other hand more whistleblowers are handing in evidence to The Equality and Human Rights Commission about such insular attitudes (Stewart and Jacobson, 2019). Moreover, with the proliferation of social media, monitoring online activity (Oates, 2012) and ideologies (Paul and Dredze, 2017) is easy. Allington (2018, pp. 130-135) posited how a new subculture of antisemitic nationalism is growing through Facebook groups in the UK where comments such as: “Hitler had a valid argument against some Jews” are being disseminated. This all goes hand in hand with Bandura et al.’s theories of social learning and imitation, which posit that exposure to aggressive or emotionally intense role models does influence the extent to which maladaptive behaviour is replicated (Oates, 2012). A good question to ask is: Are there any current world leaders exhibiting prejudice, and promoting psychological violence through their verbal behaviours? The cycle of enquiry is eternal (Pike, 2017).
Harlow’s (1960) approach to understanding mother-infant attachment was unethical. He also verbally admitted to hating animals, using them, and feeling nothing towards them as shown by Slater (2004) cited in (Custance, 2012, p. 212). Many baby monkeys were intentionally psychophysiologically tortured for two decades in the laboratory for research purposes (Custance, 2012). Nowadays, this type of profile would be classed as sadistic, psychopathic (Moul et al., 2012; Pemment, 2013) and/or machiavellian (Czibor et al, 2017). Nevertheless, he (Harlow, 1960) found that attachment in rhesus macaques was based on emotional warmth, and proposed that humans bond similarly, ratifying Bowlby’s claims which had been informing UNCRC (1959) policy. These and more ethological findings were extended to human psychology through experiments. Custance (2012), building on Ainsworth’s work illustrated the immediate and long-term distress children experience when separated from their parents. She also heavily criticised Harlow’s methods and attitudes, explaining that subjecting animals to such conditions would now be illegal. Based on the UK’s Animal Welfare Act 2006 (c.45), owners of domesticated animals have a duty of care when it comes to providing a suitable environment and diet for their pets; ensuring wellbeing and welfare; and providing protection from pain, injury, suffering and disease, especially when it can be prevented (GOV.UK, n.d.).
Harlow experimented on monkeys because psychologically harming humans was illegal in the 1960s (Custance, 2012). Furthermore, It is now recognised that human rights are crucial to the advancement of psychology, and vice versa (Söderström, 2019). Nonetheless, migrants and asylum seekers in the UK have been facing a psychologically violent (ILPA, 2016) reality; being made susceptible to pain, injury, suffering, disease and long-term mental distress due to legislative measures such as the Immigration Acts 2014 (c.22) and 2016 (c.19). These hostile environment policies were a legal reflection of socio-psychological violence with concomitant schadenfreude, and targeted discrimination (Webber, 2019; Williams, 2019). This was initially designed with the intention of thwarting and precluding asylum seekers’ desire to remain in the jurisdiction through enforced discomfort and destitution (Global Justice Now, 2018). Although the policies have recently been adapted and improved to include free healthcare for all (GOV.UK, 2019), some services are still being (unlawfully) denied to migrants by British individuals (EHRC, 2018): From welfare, to security, and the enjoyment of human rights (Webber, 2019). Therefore, it can be argued that domesticated animals have a better quality of life than asylum seekers; resulting in an environmentally degraded, and disadvantaged subculture (Oyserman, 2017). Consequently, UN Special Rapporteur, Professor Tendayi Achiume rigorously challenged the UK for its incongruency with the Equality Act 2010 (c.15; OHCHR, 2018).
All of the above studied phenomena can be further extrapolated and triangulated to analyse the recent media scandal from the US which has received global attention (Kabaservice, 2019) due to border enforcement agents allegedly separating migrant children from their parents, detaining them in slavish conditions at El Paso; whilst also denying them “trauma support […] clean water […] nutritious food”; and engaging in indignities such as forcing women to drink water from toilets(House Hearing Featuring AOC on Child Separation and Detainment, 2019). A congresswoman described the situation as a “manufactured crisis”, and many consider these measures to be “unnecessary” and “callous”. Parental deprivation for a prolonged period of time can cause great harm (Custance, 2012); and the violation of human rights (UDHR, 1948; ECHR, 1950), and of the rights of the child (UNCRC, 1989) does too. This situation, by definition, is a form of state-sponsored psychological violence. Either challenging or complying with such moral crimes is at the discretion of every person’s free will (Milgram, 1963; 1965) and serves as a reference to understand the impact that policy has on individual lives, and the importance of making informed decisions.
To summarise, challenging the status quo is crucial to advancing global development (Williams, 2019), and to understanding how current world events impact on individual and social lives. The media and the attention given to it play a crucial role in socio-behavioural dynamics, whilst also shaping personal and collective attitudes. This is why psychology must iteratively scrutinise what is already established to comprehend the consequences that arise out of public policy.
Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. and Sanford, R.N. (1950) The Authoritarian Personality, New York, Harper.
United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (2018) End of Mission Statement of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance at the Conclusion of Her Mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland [Online]. Available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23073&LangID=E (Accessed 2 July 2019).
Because simply watching the docuseries on Netflix is not enough, I decided to read the book by Michaud and Aynesworth (2019) which contains the transcripts from conversations with Theodore Robert Bundy, also known as the All-American Boy (Loftus and Ketcham, 1991).
This book provides real insight into Bundy’s psychological discourse, and it can be observed that his superego mainly served as a reminder not to get caught. He could not control his impulses, and this is why he left such a high death toll. His moral degeneracy can be appreciated in his described thinking process, where he expresses how he felt it was not difficult at all to maintain such secret life hidden away from the consciousness of those who were part of his personal circle: “I became expert at projecting something very different. That I was very busy. It is clear now, I think, that a huge part of my life was hidden from everyone – secret, as it were. It didn’t take much effort” (p. 16). One thing that can be noticed throughout the conversations is that Ted Bundy had a form of self-serving bias which was compounded by his belief about what he called the psychological “condition”. He expressed his states of narcissistic melancholia mixed with helplessness in relation to what can be described as his criminogenic, sadistic needs and the satisficing of these. He expressed that at times he would lay with the corpses he created until these were putrid.
What I find particularly difficult to comprehend when it comes to studying Ted Bundy as a prototypical psychopath is that at times some of the statements he made about his experience posited that he had the capacity to feel fear, which goes beyond the scope of primary psychopathy: “I thought I was going to die every night the first few days I was in jail back in October of 1975. I was scared to death! Daily. I thought they were going to kill me” (p. 23). Was he saying the truth? I don’t know. However, some of his other statements did reveal his malignant personality, such as when speaking about the way in which he perceived his victims as objects: “Except he is not killing a person. He is killing an image” (p. 65). Whose image? is the question I have. Psychodynamic theorists would of course instantly say that perhaps he wanted to recreate the image of the woman who he had the most contempt against, his own mother.
Bundy truly believed that this “condition”- as he called it- was to blame for all of his behaviour; nevertheless, unable to meet the M’Naghtan rules, he was not found to be eligible to claim criminal insanity and even prominent expert witnesses and forensic psychologists such as Elizabeth Loftus (1991) describe having been disturbed by his sophisticated mannerisms and inappropriate body language and responses to contexts. In other words, Bundy had a theory of mind (ToM) deficit, and a surplus of self-esteem. Moreover, his construct of reality was based on self-justifications and false beliefs. The way in which he described his “disease” in third person was as follows: “what’s happening is that we’re building up the condition and what may have been a predisposition for violence becomes a disposition. And as the condition develops and its purposes or its characteristics become more well defined, it begins to demand more of the attention and time of the individual” (p. 71). Such cluster of personality traits and behaviour is classed in the DSM-5 as antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).
What’s interesting is that Bundy describes having been influenced by his peers’ concepts of the attractive woman when choosing his victims. This was perhaps the case because as a malignant narcissist, his desire to have complete control over such beautiful images meant that he needed to kill them in order to control everything about their interaction. According to Bundy he murdered his victims because he wanted to leave no living witness of his sexual atrocities. As the moral imbecile that he was, he even washed some of his victims’ hair and did their make up in order to have sex with their corpses until the rotting nature of death made it impossible to do so. This shows the utter perversion of this individual, and this is synthesised by his own words: “A certain amount of the need of that malignant condition had been satisfied through the sexual release. That driving force would recede somewhat, allowing the normal individual’s mental mechanisms to again begin to take hold” (p. 90).
What makes this a great book is that it is made up of transcripts mainly and this allows the reader to see the pathetically perverse side of Bundy that is so easily forgotten when watching his charming ways on camera right until the evening before he was finally executed in 1989. It truly feels like talking with this serial killer. A truly recommended reading for anyone interested in this particular case study or in understanding antisocial personality disorder more deeply.
Michaud, S.G. and Aynesworth, H. (2019) Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer, London, Mirror Books.
Loftus, E. and Ketcham, K. (1991) Witness for the Defense: The Accused, the Eyewitness, and the Expert Who Puts Memory on Trial, New York, St. Martin’s Press, pp. 61-91.