Categories
History Journalism

Sicario Culture: An Analysis of Violent Crime and Aggression in Colombia During the 80s and 90s

According to Blackburn (2005, pp. 211-223), “aggression describes the intentional infliction of harm, including psychological discomfort as well as injury, although it is sometimes loosely equated with vigour in competitive situations […] a constant need to discharge aggressive energy governs human behaviour […] anger is a socially constructed emotion […] In personality disorders, ego weakness results in the repression of aggression […] Ferguson and Rule, for example, suggest that anger is aroused not simply by the degree of perceived aversive treatment by others, but also by judgements of whether the aversion is intentional, malevolent, foreseeable, and unjustified”.

The cycle of criminogenic behaviour

Gillespie and Mitchell (2018, p. 85) describe individuals diagnosed with psychopathy as a personality disorder (ASPD) as “outwardly normal, but were nonetheless extremely callous and unable to express remorse or guilt, to the point where they seemed to be devoid of human emotion. The patients were typically of above average intelligence and seemingly charming, though lacked the capacity for love”. Psychopaths who go through the criminal justice system can at times exhibit great criminal versatility. The following is a diagram I designed to illustrate how such criminogenic needs and versatility develop and recur.

Recidivism

National homicide rates per 100 000 population, c. 1984

Blackburn (2005) included a table in his chapter about violent crime and aggression where Colombia is listed as the country with the highest homicide rate in 1984 and this was published in the United Nations year-book (1988). Even though the data has changed massively, and Colombia has dramatically reduced its crime rates; such bloody past would have caused generational trauma without a doubt, and the Colombian people would have had to adapt to survive potential death anywhere at any time if they upset the wrong person. Many political leaders were assassinated in order to stop the people from interfering with the criminal business of the mafia. A lot of blood was shed, and the Colombian people were over-exposed to extreme levels of danger to the point where the entire nation was having a humanitarian crisis, which still echoes, and which is still being solved.

CountryRate
Colombia37.4
Mexico17.9
Brazil13.4
Venezuela12.9
USA 8.5
Ecuador 7.1
Argentina3.8
Hungary2.7
Canada2.3
Italy2.1
Australia1.9
Poland1.6
Austria1.4
Israel1.4
France1.3
Scotland1.3
New Zealand1.2
FDR1.2
Spain1.0
Greece0.9
England and Wales0.7
Egypt0.5

Source: United Nations (1988). Demographic yearbook. New York: United Nations Publishing.

Case study: the criminal career of sicario alias Popeye

The following video covers the developmental trajectory of Jhon Jairo Velasquez Vasquez’ criminal career, the political context in which he was rewarded with attention and money for being a hired gun; and how such media attention has led to some of the Colombian people seeing and treating him as a celebrity. Behind this story is a real case of a mental health crisis where the hypernormalisation of violence from recent decades was so extreme, that many people became desensitised to the actions of this type of individual, seeing no difference between what is right and what is wrong. Furthermore, this documentary analyses some of the confessions of Popeye as the primary psychopath that he was, and shows how what is ‘normal’ in a country, is ‘abnormal’ in other places. Popeye specialised in crime, and developed all the skills needed for the criminal business. This makes an interesting case for forensic psychology, and for media studies.

References

1989: un año para la memoria (2014) Youtube video, added by El Espectador [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDFsNNaTQIY&t=4s (Accessed 9 March 2020). 

2015 Popeye Full TV Interview. Part 1 of 3. English Subtitles (2018) Youtube video, added by Colombian History X [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6NGWNrzg88 (Accessed 8 March 2020). 

Blackburn, R. (2005) The Psychology of Criminal Conduct, West Sussex, John Wiley & Sons/ University of Liverpool, pp. 210-245.

Escobar’s Hitman. Former drug-gang killer now loved and loathed in Colombia (2017) Youtube video, added by RT Documentary [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQy_LJdZ7qw (Accessed 8 March 2020).

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. 

Popeye: The Jailhouse Interviews Pt. 1 – English Subtitles  (2018) Youtube video, added by Colombian History X [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaPw1EEPOCc  (Accessed 8 March 2020). 

Popeye: The early years (2018) Youtube video, added by Colombian History X [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAPsQ0P_4Q0  (Accessed 8 March 2020).

United Nations (1988) Demographic Year-Book, New York, United Nations Publishing Division. 

Categories
Opinion

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. 

References

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 https://pmt-eu.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/gvehrt/TN_sciversesciencedirect_elsevierS0924-9338(17)31194-X  (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  https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/plymouth-news/plymouth-rocked-two-weeks-devastating-3814187 (Accessed 10 February 2020).

Psychology Today (n.d) [Online]. Available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb (Accessed 10 February 2020). 

Categories
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). 

References

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 https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1467708&section=4.2  (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 https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1467710&section=8  (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. 

Categories
Books Opinion Review

Book Review: Ted Bundy: Conversations With a Killer

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.

References

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.