Understanding Evolutionary Theory in the Context of Animal Minds

Evolutionary theory refers to the ontogenetic, social and phylogenetic developmental trajectory of species as a mechanism for adaptation and survival. (Hewson et al., 2015, p. 67-68). Comparative psychology draws pathological and behavioural associations between human and nonhuman animals, including how evolution occurs interspecies through the use of tools. For instance, Taylor has been investigating the intelligence of birds (The Open University, 2019b). He built a complex puzzle apparatus which required eight steps to solve, and he demonstrated how a New Caledonian crow named 007 was able to quickly solve it to get the food reward. The bird had to be trained first to use each of the individual components of the apparatus (The Open University, 2019a). This shows that birds can enhance their sophisticated, transferable, problem solving skills through the use of tools.  Furthermore, when it comes to understanding cooperation as an evolutionary trait, Professor de Waal (The Open University, 2019d) explained how animals help each other in complex ways. Two monkeys were put through extremely stressful tasks for research purposes in which one of them was privileged in terms of food, and the other was not. This food competition paradigm (The Open University, 2019e) can be considered a form of monkey-economy based on inequality. Brosnan and De Waal (2003, p. 297) called their distressed, responsive behaviour an “aversion to inequity”. All this corroborates Panksepp’s theory (The Open University, 2019c) of the seven primary emotions among which empathy is included. Whilst chimpanzees might be able to understand perception and knowledge in conspecifics; they cannot, however, understand when another individual is misinformed (i.e. when someone has a false belief; Hewson et al., 2015, pp.96-98; The Open University, 2019e).   


Brosnan, S.F. and De Waal, F.B.M. (2003) ‘Monkeys reject unequal pay’, Nature. Nature Publishing Group, 425(6955), pp. 297–299. Available at (Accessed 11 October 2019).

Hewson, C., Ramsden P., and Turner, J.  (2015) ‘Animal minds’, in Turner, J., Hewson, C., Mahendran, K. and Stevens, P.  (eds), Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 63-99.

The Open University (2019a) ‘Alex Taylor explains the problem-solving task for crows’ [Video], DD210-19J Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary.  Available at (Accessed 11 October 2019).

The Open University (2019b) ‘Chris Packham and The New Caledonian crow puzzle’ [Video], DD210-19J Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary.  Available at  (Accessed 11 October 2019).

The Open University (2019c) ‘Jaak Panksepp at the TEDx Rainier conference’ [Video], DD210-19J Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary.  Available at  (Accessed 11 October 2019).

The Open University (2019d) ‘TEDx Talk: Professor Frans de Waal’ [Video], DD210-19J Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary.  Available at  (Accessed 11 October 2019).

The Open University (2019e) ‘3.6 Animals’ understanding of false belief’, DD210-19J Week 3: Animal minds [Online]. Available at  (Accessed 11 October 2019).

Journalism Science

Understanding Self-esteem and Why it is Important

According to the online Etymology dictionary (n.d.), the verb “esteem” originates from 14c Latin meaning “to value, determine the value of, appraise”. Based on this definition, to self-esteem is to self-appraise and to consequently establish one’s own self worth. Nevertheless, in psychological research, the concept of self-esteem is a much disputed one. It encompasses other key terms such as self concept (the awareness a person has about themselves), and self-efficacy in relation to the status quo (the way a person assesses their own abilities and skills; Mahendran, 2015).  Is self-esteem a cognitive attitude or a relational phenomenon? Some of these terms will be explored further below, in order to analyse the psycholinguistics and psychodynamics of everyday self-appraisal, and how this reveals the way someone understands and relates to the world around them. 

Self-esteem is an everyday psychological phenomenon that permeates all aspects of a person’s life. Psychologists have at times described this concept as one that encompasses all types of attitudes an individual has about themselves (Mahendran, 2015, p. 159). Now, in order to understand how this concept might influence everyday executive functions, it would be helpful to first elucidate what is meant in psychology by the word “attitude” in relation to “self”. According to Mahendran (2015), an attitude has three core components: the cognitive component encompasses the way in which an individual sees their own object, that is, themselves. The affective component explores the feelings an individual has towards their own object. And third, the behavioural component encompasses the general views an individual has about their own identity, and how this perceived identity shapes the person’s behaviour within the public environment. The following paragraphs will elaborate on the cognitive and relational aspects of self-appraisal as an attitude and behaviour. Furthermore, labelling theory proposes that the ‘self’ is socially constructed, and such construal determines what is labelled as ‘deviant’ or ‘criminal’, or ‘normal’  (Blackburn, 2005). This would suggest that by evaluating one’s understanding of the self-concept (including its historical biography), and its relations to the world around it (the episodic map); one can gain a more accurate understanding of what it means to self-esteem. Furthermore, Tafarodi and Milne (2002) cited in Mahendran (2015, p. 178) described self-esteem as having two main components: self-competence and self-liking. Based on this construct, it can be said that a person’s subjective definition of competency, and the mores shaping their milieu and SUPEREGO; contribute to what a person considers worthy, desirable, and acceptable. In correlation, James (1952) cited in Mahendran (2015, pp. 171-173) saw self-esteem as essentially having four components: the material self (the body and possessions), the social self (the personality presented to other people), the spiritual self (the stream of consciousness, and the observer of subjective experience); and the pure ego (a person’s individuality and self-concept in solitude). Furthermore, Branden (1988) cited in Mahendran (2015, p. 161) defined the term self-esteem as having two main feelings: “personal competence” and “personal worth”. 

After the self-esteem political movements of the 1980s and 1990s, and after Baumeister cited in Mahendran (2015, p. 162) officially promoted self-esteem as being the key to health and happiness, more and more people began to get in touch with this aspect of themselves consciously. Moreover, the concept of self-esteem gained a collective status, and became a central focus of social psychology. It was realised that self-esteem has intricate environmental and socio-cultural factors which are not always in the control of an individual (that is, that self-esteem  is at times a correlational phenomenon). All of this public attention to the subject led eventually to further concerns about whether collective self-esteem could be raised at all without first challenging the status quo. But why would this concept of self-love be relevant to forensic psychology? Branden (1988) cited in Mahendran (2015, pp. 160-161) described self-esteem as being the root of all psychological evils; including crime, mental health problems, social problems, poor wellbeing, and even suicide: “I cannot think of a single psychological problem […] that is not traceable, at least in part, to the problem of deficient self-esteem”. What this perspective suggests is that self-esteem should be considered a basic need in civil society, rather than a privilege of  a selected few, or a future project. Moreover, Bull et al. (2012) explains that sexual offenders, for example, can often be motivated to offend by their low self-esteem (in psychoanalysis, the ID); and often rely on cognitive biases to self-justify their behaviours and autobiographical discourses (impaired or deficient SUPEREGO). In view of such evidence, it is not surprising therefore that at some point a self-esteem deficit was considered to be a security risk, and this is why in 1986 the Task Force for Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility was established in the US California State Department cited in Mahendran (2015, p. 162), which promoted the deterrence and desistance from crime through interventions designed to increase morality and self-esteem levels in individuals. 

Furthermore, in psychoanalysis the self is often referred to as a relational object, which has a personality that is presented to the outside world (the EGO; Eysenck, 2000); where identity is socially constructed  (Mahendran, 2015, pp. 188-190). A culture’s social norms and definitions of what is termed as “desirable” and “acceptable” impact on a person’s SUPEREGO*, and therefore their process of self-identification, as well as their object-relations are shaped by the dynamics between ID, EGO, and SUPEREGO. Burkitt (2008) cited in The Open University (2019) reinforces this idea about the self being relational within the social sphere: “Our self-worth is dynamic; it changes as we move through the world with our individual biographies”. One of the most influential approaches to understanding self-esteem was proposed by Rogers (1951) cited in Mahendran (2015, p. 174), who understood ‘self-fulfilment’ as the gap between the actual self (who we are) and the ideal self (who we want to be). By the same token, James (1952) cited in Mahendran (2015, p. 171) proposed a model claiming that self-esteem could be developed by manifesting the potential of one’s actual self into the ideal self, finding this way congruence within. Subsequently, Rogers also posited how in order for a person to mind this gap between the actual and ideal selves, they would have to let go of societal expectations and stereotypes. What all the above mentioned suggests is that self-actualisation, also known as self-realization (the capacity to reach one’s current maximum potential) relies on the individual challenging the status quo (Mahendran, 2015, p. 175). Indeed, exposure to unrealistic media stereotypes, for instance,  can influence individual and societal constructions of object identities and relations by setting manufactured personas as standards for what is desirable and competent (Kennedy, 2007). Blindly following or measuring oneself against such stereotypes can result in self-object dissatisfaction and therefore low self-esteem as a byproduct of the existing levels of inequalities, which reproduce all types of distortions related to the ontology of self-image presentation, and representation. Calogero (2013) cited in Mahendran (2015, pp. 192) proposed the system justification theory which sees activism as a healthy manifestation of self-love, because a person challenges the disproportionate general standards of what is considered nice. In other words, the way in which someone internalises the world around them- including the social, environmental, cultural, political and economic dimensions- influences self-esteem (Mahendran, 2015). 

This would support the approach to understanding self-esteem as a cognitive attitude (e.g. internalisation of circumstances), and yet this would not be mutually exclusive with the idea of self-esteem as relational phenomena. Leary (2003) cited in Mahendran (2015, p. 180) proposed the sociometer theory, which posited that self-esteem levels can sometimes be attributed to external, rather than internal inputs. This theory highlights the importance of understanding object-relational dynamics. On the other hand, there are several cognitive biases which prevent people from maintaining a healthy level of self-esteem (Mahendran, 2015). For instance, an individual can make a fundamental attribution error if they assume that self-esteem is all about personal attitudes and has nothing to do with the milieu they live in (Mahendran, 2015, p. 180). This is why self-esteem should not be interpreted as belonging only to one single aspect of reality, but rather, it should be seen as a phenomenon that really permeates every aspect of a person’s life at all times; and is therefore subject to both, interoception and exteroception. Nevertheless, Pyszczynski et al. (2004) cited in Mahendran (2015, p. 181) proposed a somewhat nihilistic account of self-esteem where self-love is presumably used as a defence mechanism derived from denial about the brutal reality of death. What this suggests is that all approaches to understanding self-esteem have been a byproduct of the subconscious fear that the human individual has about the imminent probability of dying. Maslow’s and James’ models, for example, would be a byproduct of the subconscious need to distract the mind from the imminent reality of mortality. Consequently, Mruk (2006) cited in Mahendran (2015, p. 169) proposed a phenomenological definition of self-esteem which focused on the way in which a person tries to make sense of their day to day world, supporting the approach to understanding self-esteem as a cognitive attitude in relation to reality. He described it as a status which is lived, and which can be developed through time. This goes hand in hand with some of the approaches developed through humanistic psychology on the topic, such as the phenomenological accounts offered by Rogers, which focused on the holistic aspect of qualia (Mahendran, 2015, p. 174). 

To summarise, there are several approaches to understanding self-esteem, and these are not always mutually exclusive. As it has been demonstrated, there are several different aspects that make and remake a person’s self-concept. Therefore, based on the above evidence, it can be said that self-esteem is both a cognitive and a relational phenomenon with direct relevance to forensic psychology when trying to understand the underlying causes of offence culture and offending behaviour.


Blackburn, R. (2005) The Psychology of Criminal Conduct, West Sussex, John Wiley & Sons, pp. 87-110.

Bull, R., Cooke, C., Hatcher, R., Woodhams, J., Bilby, C. and Grant, T. (2012) Criminal Psychology: Beginners Guides, London, Oneworld Publications, pp. 186-207.

Eysenck, M. W. (2000) Psychology: A Student’s Handbook, East Sussex, Psychology Press Ltd., pp. 16-41.

Kennedy, B. M. (2007) ‘THINKING ONTOLOGIES OF THE MIND/BODY RELATIONAL’, in Kennedy, B. and Bell, D. (eds) CYBERCULTURES, 2nd edn, Oxon, Routledge, pp. 773-787.

Mahendran, K.  (2015) ‘Self-esteem’, in Turner, J., Hewson, C., Mahendran, K. and Stevens, P.  (eds), Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 155-194.

Online Etymology Dictionary (n.d) Esteem (v) [Online]. Available at (Accessed 22 November, 2019).

The Open University (2019) ‘5.1 Beyond managing self-esteem’, DD210-19J Week 7: Self-esteem [Online]. Available at (Accessed 22 November 2019).

Opinion Science

Forensic profiling: What Are The Subtypes of Psychopathy?

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.

Types of Psychopaths
Psychopathy subtypes

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.

Durães and Borralho (2017) ‘Can psychopathy be treated?’, European Psychiatry,  Elsevier,  pp. S681–S681 [Online]. Available at  (Accessed 18 May 2019).

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. 

Preston-Ellis, R. (2020) ‘Plymouth rocked by two weeks of devastating fires- a timeline’, Plymouth Herald, 6 February [Online]. Available at (Accessed 10 February 2020).

Psychology Today (n.d) [Online]. Available at (Accessed 10 February 2020). 

Journalism Science

The Developmental Trajectory: Theory of Mind (ToM)

The developmental trajectory is the progressive continuum through which a human ability develops in life (Hewson, 2015). For instance, research suggests that theory of mind (ToM)–  the ability to attribute mental states (e.g. false beliefs) that differ from one’s own to other people begins to develop around age 4- and becomes more complex/sophisticated with maturity (e.g. second order beliefs; Hewson, 201).  “It’s not until age 7 that we get what looks more like an adult [moral] response” (The Open University, 2019a). Furthermore, it is believed that when mentally disordered offenders (e.g. schizophrenes; Davey)- and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD; Lyndsay et al., 2018)- fail to understand other people’s mental states, they have a ToM deficit resulting either from childhood trauma which thwarted the normal developmental trajectory of executive functioning skills (Davey, 2018; Hewson, 2015); from biological/neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD; Mugno et al., 2018; Lyndsay et al., 2018), and/or from personality disorders such as psychopathy (The Open University, 2019b); therefore these people need special support tailored to their needs in adulthood to help them be independent, and to find happiness. Sometimes these needs are of criminogenic nature (Barker et al., 2017; Harkins et al., 2018), and this is why those lacking ToM are given attention and protection to prevent the potential escalation of maladaptive behaviours (Ward and Willis, 2018; Schug et al., 2018); as well as the risky methods for coping with stress (Taylor and Reeves, 2017). 


Barker, M.J. and Cooper, T. (2017) ‘Mindfulness’, in Vossler, A., Havard, C., Pike, G., Barker, M.J. and Raabe, B. (eds), Mad or Bad? A Critical Approach to Counselling and Forensic Psychology, London, SAGE Publications, pp. 238-250. 

Davey, G. (2018) Psychopathology, West Sussex, British Psychological Society and John Wiley & Sons, pp. 236-558. 

Harkins, L., Ware, J. and Mann, R. (2018) ‘Treating Dangerous Offenders’, in  Davies, G.M. and Beech, A.R. (eds), Forensic Psychology: Crime, Justice, Law, Interventions, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, pp. 547-570. 

Hewson, C. (2015) ‘Mindreading’, in Turner, J., Hewson, C., Mahendran, K. and Stevens, P.  (eds), Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 15-56.

Lindsay, W.R., Taylor, J.L. and Michie, A.M. (2018) ‘Interventions for Offenders with Intellectual Disabilities’, in Davies, G.M. and Beech, A.R. (eds), Forensic Psychology: Crime, Justice, Law, Interventions, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, pp. 603-628. 

Mugno, A.P., Malloy, L.C. and La Rooy, D.J. (2018) ‘Interviewing Witnesses’, in Davies, G.M. and Beech, A.R. (eds), Forensic Psychology: Crime, Justice, Law, Interventions, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, pp. 203-223. 

Schug, R.A., Gao, Y., Glenn, A.L., Peskin, M., Yang, Y. and Raine, A. (2015) ‘The Developmental Evidence Base: Neurobiological Research and Forensic Applications’, in Crighton, D.A. and Towl, G.J. (eds), Forensic Psychology, 2nd edn, West Sussex, British Psychological Society and John Wiley and Sons Ltd, pp. 115-128. 

Taylor, P. and Reeves, A. (2017) ‘Self-harm and Suicide’, in Vossler, A., Havard, C., Pike, G., Barker, M.J. and Raabe, B. (eds), Mad or Bad? A Critical Approach to Counselling and Forensic Psychology, London, SAGE Publications, pp. 268-281. 

The Open University (2019a) ‘TED Talk: Rebecca Saxe’ [Video], DD210 Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary.  Available at  (Accessed 21 September 2019).

The Open University (2019b) ‘8 Theories of mindreading difficulties’, DD210-19J Week 4: Mindreading Difficulties – Examples from clinical psychology [Online]. Available at  (Accessed 22 October 2019).

Ward, T. and Willis, G.M. (2018) ‘The Rehabilitation of Offenders: Good Lives and Risk Reduction’, in Davies, G.M. and Beech, A.R. (eds), Forensic Psychology: Crime, Justice, Law, Interventions, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, pp. 663-682. 

Journalism Opinion Science

Advances in Social Justice Can Only be Achieved Through Research that Challenges the Status Quo

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.


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Edgar, H. and Edgar, G. (2012) ‘Paying Attention’, in Brace, N. and Byford, J. (eds) Investigating Psychology, Oxford, Oxford University Press/Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 325-359.

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Artificial minds, proprioception and episodic memory: the differences between human and computational intelligence

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (n.d.a), the adjective “artificial” originates from 14c France meaning “not natural or spontaneous”, and it began to be used in the English language from 16c to describe “anything made in imitation of, or as a substitute for, what is natural”. The etymology of the noun “mind” is rooted in late 12c, when the word “mynd” was used to describe “that which feels, wills, and thinks; the intellect” (Online Etymology Dictionary, n.d.b); a derivation from the Old English word “gemynd” which encompassed the concepts of memory, conscience, intention, and purpose among other things. This essay explores the concept of “artificial minds”, some of its psychological perspectives and what all this reveals about human minds. 

What is an artificial mind? Based on the above explained, if the word artificial has for centuries carried the meaning of imitation and substitution for- in this case- human nature; it is not surprising that some people have reported feeling afraid about the possibility of robots taking over the world (McDonald, 2019). Assuming that machines think in the same way as humans is like anthropomorphising (ascribing human qualities to nonhuman animals; Hewson, 2015). Yasemin J. Erden defined this phenomenon as  “problem of other minds” in her chapter of Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary (2015, p. 109), where she posed the question “how do you know that the author of this chapter is a person?”. Her name is written as the author of the chapter, and the paragraphs are written in a meticulously eloquent manner. The content is highly specialised. Yet, the reader is invited to question all this, and to consider the possibility of her identity being robotic. Once her name is searched though, it can be seen that she is human, as well as a philosopher at St. Mary University in London (Google, n.d.). Nevertheless, her question should not be underestimated in any way, as there exist bots that can rigorously write essays for humans (Essaybot, n.d).

If mind is software and body is hardware (Computational modeling of the brain – Sylvain Baillet, 2016), does that mean that the two work independently? Descartes initially questioned whether matter (body) was the result of mind (imagination). He stated “I think, therefore I am”, claiming that body was a manifestation or hallucination of thought (Erden, 2015, pp. 111-112); and eventually evolved his perspective to say that mind and body are connected specifically through the pineal gland of the brain. Under the same token, dualist theorists believe that the strongest evidence for the existence of mind as a separate entity from brain is the concept of qualia- coined by Chalmers (1996) as cited in Erden (2015)- which encompasses the subjective, first-person experience of the individual. Erden illustrates this concept with an analogy of eating and enjoying chocolate (2015), explaining that one thing is to understand how the body absorbs and digests chocolate, and another thing is to enjoy the taste of it. Could a bot understand the experience of enjoyment? After all, not even some legislators seem to understand the concept of enjoyment in relation to- for example- human rights law (United Nations, n.d.; ECHR, 1950).

In contrast, materialist theorists claim that specific parts of the human brain are responsible for intelligent functions such as the processing of sensory inputs (stimuli), and the creation of responses (outputs; Erden, 2015, pp. 115-117). But, what is meant by intelligence? The answer to Alan Turing’s question (1950) cited in (Erden, 2015, pp. 120-121) “can machines think?” depends on the way the words “mind” and “thinking” are used (Erden, 2015, p. 122). For instance, the intelligent nature of human memory is highly complex (Prosecution Witness Janeen DeMarte Explains Why She Does Not Believe Jodi Arias’ Memory Fog Story, 2013). Could a machine learn to absorb, encode, store, and retrieve information similarly to a person? In order to understand this, Naoyuki Sato and Yogo Yamaguchi (2010) from Japan reviewed computational models of the hippocampi, the two organs of the brain mainly responsible for the formation of episodic memory (remembering what, where, and when). Their (Sato and Yamaguchi, 2010) evidence suggests that when the hippocampal system is damaged, the ability for self object-space processing is lost. Nevertheless, they state that more brain regions are involved in the process, and that models which can take into account more than one brain region simultaneously need to be developed. 

This is why one of the biggest challenges in computational modeling is to equip artificial minds and robotic bodies with proprioception (Erden, 2015), the human ability to position one’s body within timespace and context. Understanding such computational complications elucidates the everyday complexity of human nature (including perceptual, sensorimotor abilities; Erden, 2015). For humans, working their way from point A to point B in timespace can be relatively straightforward, and if uncertainties or anomalies arise, these can be dealt with successfully (e.g. avoiding an obstacle). However, with no hippocampus and no cognitive map on which to rely; robots find it overwhelming to understand the where, when, and what of situations; especially when it comes to unexpected contingencies or events. John McCarthy and Patrick Hayes (1969) cited in Erden (2015) called this phenomenon the frame problem. As a consequence, psychologists such as Aaron Sloman (The Open University, 2019b) have placed their emphasis on the computational modelling of the human information processing system. Erden (2015, p. 124) defines this framework as computational theory of mind (CTM), and the most advanced artificially intelligent robotic inventions are equipped with proprioceptive sensors which allow them to compute and interact with the world around them more competently (Erden, 2015). Nevertheless, Margaret Boden from the University of Sussex in England states that to model some mysterious processes such as creativity is difficult, because humans do not always understand how they do what they do (The Open University, 2019a). 

To summarise, the concept of artificial minds has helped cognitive scientists understand the complex functions of everyday living in humans. Machines can indeed think, they just don’t think in the same way as humans. Human intelligence and its neuroscientific structure is not easy to model in full magnitude, and not all functions are clear enough to warrant replication. The human mind remains somewhat mysterious, and subjective experience remains an area for further research. Could this be what is meant by the philosophical latin concept of DEUS EX MACHINA?  (GOD FROM THE MACHINE). The future is uncertain. 


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Science Visual Theory

Prediction-Observation Model


Oyserman, D. (2017) ‘Culture Three Ways: Culture and Subcultures Within Countries’, Annual Review of Psychology, 68(1), pp. 435–463

Science Visual Theory

Sensory & Conceptual Processing


Ellis, G. (2018) ‘Top-down effects in the brain’, Physics of Life Reviews. Elsevier B.V.

Science Visual Theory

The Psychopathic Leader


Palmen, D., Derksen, J. and Kolthoff, E. (2017) ‘House of Cards: Psychopathy in Politics’, Public Integrity. Routledge, 20(5), pp. 1–17.

Science Visual Theory

The Prefrontal Cortex


Grimshaw, G. M. (2018) ‘Affective neuroscience: a primer with implications for forensic psychology’, Psychology, Crime & Law. Routledge, 24(3), pp. 258–278.

Prefrontal cortex psychopathy
Prefrontal cortex psychopathy
Science Visual Theory

Antisocial Behaviour & Psychopathy


Juni, S. (2014) ‘Diagnosing antisocial behavior and psychopathy’, Journal of Criminal Psychology. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 4(1), pp. 76–96

Science Visual Theory

Reaction Time & Behaviourism


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