Book Review: Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work

This is a book I had been reading for a while, and which I have been sharing quotes about. Hare and Babiak’s (2006) Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work attempts to draw the similarities between clinical psychopathy, corporate psychopathy, and the general dark side of business. It also delves on topics such as personal relationships, and every day business contexts. It speaks to both, those who see themselves as psychopathic, and those who do not. It also speaks to victims of narcissistic relationships who have been played by callous and unemotional people, and brings the context back to the faculty of social sciences:

‘Indeed, this diffusion of responsibility is big business; witness the large number of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and counsellors ready and eager to explain or exculpate criminal behaviour. This is good for criminals in general and for psychopaths in particular’.

Robert D. Hare & Paul Babiak (2006, p. 277)

Indeed, forensic psychology is a science that begins its investigative journey with the question: ‘what is a psychopath?’, and this is why books such as The Mask of Sanity, Without Conscience, and Snakes in Suits are relevant to wrapping up a general view about the label; and it is precisely because the label ‘psychopath’ is so controversial and so sensationalised that real experts on the topic, or students of the discipline feel like forensic psychology can be quite the depressing career. I mean, what to do with all this understanding about how psychopathy works when mainstream society finds researching the topic an insult itself? In regards to this, Hare and Babiak (2006, p. 278) state:

‘Perhaps this is why so many of those in the helping professions find themselves in big trouble by trying to help a psychopath’.

Robert D. Hare & Paul Babiak (2006, p. 278)

There are many troubles that can arise from trying to understand psychopathy. First of all, generally speaking, people perceive research which is focused on attempting to comprehend callous or unemotional behaviour as a dark behaviour itself. Second, many people think that when forensic psychologists speak of psychopathy as a scale, the majority of people are exempt from it. Third, most people associate the label ‘psychopathy‘ with criminal behaviour. However, this is not always the case. Hare and Babiak (2006) truly manage to capture this idea that psychopathy can happen in everyday contexts. Moreover, the book provides- so to say- a behavioural anatomy of traits associated with the label, and these traits (according to the authors) are very commonly found in business and organisational settings; as well as corporations. The title of the book (in my opinion) challenges the criminal stereotype often associated with the label, and although the authors do include such a behaviour too; it becomes clear that what is deemed as psychopathic can also appear dressed in a suit with a tie; an allusion to how seemingly ‘normal’ people can be psychopathic or have psychopathic traits.

Critical Note

I think Hare and Babiak (2006) risk sensationalising and stigmatising what is considered helping, validating, or empathic behaviour. Some parts of the book also paint a picture of a therapist’s approach as threatening:

‘The psychopath will try to convince you that he or she accepts you as you are’.

Robert D. Hare & Paul Babiak (2006, p. 275)

Yet, the book also states:

‘Some avoid talking to psychologists because they fear they will learn something uncomfortable about themselves. Psychopaths are well aware of these concerns and capitalize on them.

Robert D. Hare & Paul Babiak (2006, p. 271)

Considering that validating behaviour is constructed as potentially psychopathic, it is no wonder that some avoid therapy! The demonisation of helping behaviour is precisely what leads people to become paranoid when someone takes a collectivist approach to social interaction. In reverse, it can also lead to people not helping in order to avoid risking impression management. This can be problematic.


Authoritarianism in Mental Health Settings

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 neuropsychopathology of 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.


Gibson, S. (2013) ‘Milgram’s obedience experiments: A rhetorical analysis’, British Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 52, York, The British Psychological Society/York University, pp. 290-309 [Online]. Available at (accessed 11 October 2020).

Turner, J. (2015) ‘Making sense of the world’, in Turner, J. and Barker, M. J. (eds) Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 7-45.

Wikipedia (n.d.) ‘Psychiatric survivors movement’ [Online]. Available at (accessed 11 October 2020).

Zimbardo (1973) Took Ecological Validity Far Too Seriously

Psychology as a science employs the experimental scientific method when trying to determine the cause and effect of everyday phenomena. It is believed that validity (when a study actually measures what it aims to measure) and reliability (when an experiment can be replicated, and the results corroborated therefore) are essential components of theoretical foundations. Ecological validity is a term used to describe the extent to which laboratory experiments can mimic natural conditions (Turner, 2019).

For instance, if a psychologist is trying to determine the effects of crime on mental health, an experiment would have to be conducted in order to test these  variables; nevertheless, some aspects of crime scene and court settings are impossible to test due to the fatal, or extremely damaging nature of such situations. Consequently, many experimental forensic psychological hypotheses cannot be taken outside the laboratory, nor can these be tested in natural conditions; and this is why mock-studies are conducted in order to understand the processes involved in case law, but these are considered to have very low ecological validity. A good example of a mock forensic psychology experiment gone wrong is Zimbardo’s (1973) Stanford Prison Experiment as cited in Eysenck (2000), which was extremely traumatic for the participants, as severe psychological damage was imposed on them.

Half of the participants took the role of prisoners, and the other half took the job of prison guards. The reason why mock studies are conducted is to make sure that no harm is done to participants; yet, this experiment went beyond the scope of mock studies and some of those playing the prisoners could no longer differentiate whether the experiment was real or not. Nowadays this type of experiment would not be allowed by an ethics committee due to its high level of ecological validity. The way in which guards abused the power and authority given to them was atrocious, and the overall experiment was detrimental to every single participant in each category.

Eysenck (2000, p. 568-569) stated: “Violence and rebellion broke out within two days […] One of the prisoners showed such severe symptoms of emotional disturbance (disorganised thinking, uncontrollable crying, and screaming) that he had to be released after only one day”. Furthermore, Zimbardo was harshly criticised for having failed to protect the physical and mental health of all parties involved. What makes a experiment a mock-study is the fact that prisoners usually know the reason why they are imprisoned; whereas Zimbardo’s study added an extra-factor by misleading them into thinking they were imprisoned for real.

Overall, Zimbardo’s (1973) experiment was very much ecologically valid and consistent with miscarriages of justice, such as when a person is innocent and yet is sent to prison, what can be imagined to be a nightmare of confusion, uncertainty, fear, and injustice. 


Eysenck, M. W. (2000) Psychology: A Student’s Handbook, East Sussex, Psychology Press Ltd, pp. 568-569, 789. 

Turner, J. (2019) ‘5 Focus on methods: ecological validity’, DD210-19J Week 18: Making sense of the world, The Open University [Online]. Available at (Accessed 17 March 2020). 


COVID-19: Situation Report, Administrative Challenges, and What Psychologists can do to Help the Crisis

UK-specific numbers

As of 10 April 2020:




Worldometers (2020)

Are the numbers to be trusted?

There is a certain ‘mystery’ with the numbers. For instance, the GOV.UK’s (2020a) dashboard has not been updating the recovery section of its spreadsheet since the 22nd March. This has led to much confusion, and many people are suspicious of the numbers being provided. For instance, the media (Merrick, 2020) announced that health secretary Matt Hancock tested positive for coronavirus on the 27th March, 2020. Then on the 2nd April, 2020 he was back to work (Matt Hancock gives first coronavirus briefing since coming out of isolation, 2020) and was looking healthy. Nevertheless, the historic record spreadsheet did not register his recovery, indicating that maybe only those admitted to hospital are being registered in the records.

Another odd discrepancy is the fact that even though Worldometers (2020) updated for the first time this month the number of recovered patients yesterday to 344, the historic record document mentioned above- which is available on the GOV.UK’s (2020a) dashboard- continues to show 135 as the number of recoveries. This is worrisome as it gives an impression of misinformation and it elicits uncertainty. No wonder many people are having a gut feeling of ‘deception’ at the hands of the GOV.

What is the government’s plan?

As of the date of this writing, the GOV.UK’s (2020b) coronavirus action plan is full of misinformation and inaccuracies. I wrote to the Department of Health & Social Care (GOV.UK, 2020c) on the 1st April in order to communicate my concerns in regards to their published document and to request more frequent reviews of it. Nevertheless, nothing has been done about it, and the file continues to create feelings of confusion and uncertainty. Here you can download the analysis I conducted. You will be able to understand the discrepancies better after reading it.

What is the WHO saying?

I attended the World Health Organization’s (2020) press briefing yesterday (10th April). Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General stated: “When health workers are at risk, we are all at risk”. There were many important calls to action, such as ensuring that medical staff are able to have adequate rest periods instead of long, exploitative shifts; the development of an immune response; and the clarification of the severity of the disease. For instance, so far we have heard about patients who are in mild, and critical conditions. It was mentioned in the conference that an explanation of the moderate condition would be helpful, as there are confirmed cases of pneumonia which have not required hospitalization.

Another important point discussed was that the death of health workers has become a ‘tragic’ stimulus to action. The health environment was spoken about as a double-edged sword. It was also raised that personal protective equipment (PPE) is therefore a must have in hospitals in order to reduce the exposure of health workers to infectious hazards. This reminds us of the importance of staying at home and protecting the NHS. Furthermore, it was also suggested that psychosocial support for front-line and health workers should be made readily available, and reasonable adjustments should also be made by administrative staff in order to prevent doctors and nurses from developing fatigue as a result of extremely long shifts.

What can psychologists do to help the coronavirus crisis?

The coronavirus (COVID-2019) impacts on different people in different ways. Psychologically speaking, this requires an ongoing decision-making process based on the likelihood of catching the virus, and the perceived severity of the consequences.

“The barriers component may comprise both physical limitations on performing a behaviour (e.g. expense) and psychological costs associated with its performance (e.g. distress)”.

Abraham and Sheeran (1996, p. 33)

The outbreak is by all means a stress-generative situation. Exploring the psychopathology of the coronavirus pandemic, such as the negative and positive symptoms it causes (e.g. confusion, neurosis, and psychosis) would help both, professionals and students to feel more efficient in their preparedness for what is to come next. For example, the concept of normal distribution and the curve as illustrated by The Visual and Data Journalism Team (2020) would help people understand what is meant by “the peak” of the outbreak that so many sources are expecting and talking about.

Psychologists are also encouraged to help people understand the serious challenge at hand, and the levels of vulnerability in individual differences. Moreover, it would also be helpful to stimulate the GOV so they respond quicker without the need for the tragic stimulus of death explained above. Furthermore, exploring the cycle of panic and neglect that manifests as response to the threat would help soothe emotionally vulnerable human beings. Advice about how to strengthen the system is welcome. When it comes to forensic psychologists, it would be useful to elucidate how data formulates policy, and why it is important to have accurate data in order to prevent confusion at subnational levels, including criminal justice settings.

How can I check the coronavirus numbers for myself?

There are two ways you can check the coronavirus statistics. For global numbers go to

For UK-specific numbers:

  1. Go to the GOV.UK’s (2020a) Dashboard.
  2. Click on the ‘About’ tab at the bottom of the page.
  3. Click on the ‘Access historic data from the dashboard (xlsx)’ link.
  4. Save the file on your device.
  5. Open the file with a spreadsheet software such as Google Sheets (n.d.), Microsoft Office Excel (n.d.), or LibreOffice Calc (n.d.).

Please note that GOV staff have neglected the recovery section in the official spreadsheet since 22nd March, 2020. If you are concerned about the numbers, please contact the Department of Health & Social Care on and explain to them your concerns.


Abraham, C. and Sheeran, P. (1996) ‘The health belief model’, in Conner, M. and Norman, P. (eds) Predicting Health Behaviour, Buckingham, Open University Press, pp. 23-61.

Google (n.d.) ‘Google Sheets’ [Online]. Available at (Accessed 11 April 2020).

GOV.UK (2020a) ‘Total UK COVID-19 cases’, 4th April [Online]. Available at (Accessed 11 April 2020).

GOV.UK (2020b) ‘Coronavirus action plan: a guide to what you can expect across the UK’, 3 March [Online]. Available at (Accessed 11 April 2020).

GOV.UK (2020c) ‘Department of Health & Social Care’ [Online]. Available at (Accessed 11 April 2020).

LibreOffice (n.d.) ‘Calc’ [Online]. Available at (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Matt Hancock gives first coronavirus briefing since coming out of isolation (2020), Youtube video, added by The Sun [Online]. Available at (Accessed 10 April 2020).

Merrick, R. (2020) ‘Coronavirus: Health secretary Matt Hancock tests positive’, The Independent, 27 March [Online]. Available at (Accessed 10 April 2020).

Microsoft (n.d.) ‘Office Excel’ [Online]. Available at (Accessed 11 April 2020).

The Visual and Data Journalism Team (2020) ‘Coronavirus pandemic: tracking the global outbreak’, BBC News, 10 April [Online]. Available at (Accessed 11 April 2020).

World Health Organization (2020) ‘Coronavirus Disease (COVID-2019) press briefings’ [Online]. Available at (Accessed 10 April 2020).

World Health Organization (n.d.) ‘Biography of Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General’ [Online]. Available at (Accessed 11 April 2020).

Worldometers (2020) ‘COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic’ [Online]. Available at (Accessed 11 April 2020).


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.


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.

USA 8.5
Ecuador 7.1
New Zealand1.2
England and Wales0.7

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.


1989: un año para la memoria (2014) Youtube video, added by El Espectador [Online]. Available at (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 (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 (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  (Accessed 8 March 2020). 

Popeye: The early years (2018) Youtube video, added by Colombian History X [Online]. Available at  (Accessed 8 March 2020).

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


Book review: Witness for the Defense: the Accused, the Eyewitness, and the Expert who puts Memory on Trial

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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).


Anderson, R. (1991) ‘Port Most Ingenious in Public Spending’, The Seattle Times, 6 July [Online]. Available at (Accessed 7 March 2020).

Associated Press in New York (2020) ‘Harvey Weinstein trial hears from expert on unreliable memory’, The Guardian, 7 February [Online]. Available at (Accessed 7 March 2020).

Equality and Human Rights Commission (2018) ‘The Human Rights Act’ [Online]. Available at (Accessed 7 March 2020).

Levenson, M. (2020) ‘Who’s Who in the Harvey Weinstein Trial’, The New York Times, 21 February [Online]. Available at (Accessed 7 March 2020).

Loftus, E. (2019) Email to Betshy P. Sanchez Marrugo, 22 October [unpublished]

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.

Sanchez Marrugo, B. P. (2019) Email to Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, 9 October [unpublished].

Journalism Opinion

Online Risks for People Within the Psychosis Spectrum: Envisioning a Digitally Safer World

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. 

Preliminary facts:

  • Suicide rates have dramatically increased within the last few years in the UK (Kaur and Manders, 2019). 
  • People with symptoms of psychosis have a difficulty in making sense of what is real and what isn’t (Davey, 2018). 
  • People on the psychotic spectrum struggle with suicidal thoughts, suicidal attempts, and some do succeed in such attempts (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). 
  • 11% of homicides happen as a result of mental health problems (Pilgrim, 2015). 
  • Hassan et al. (2011) as cited in Fisher et al. (2018) studied 3000 newly convicted offenders, and found that 10% were suffering from psychosis. 
  • According to the United Nations News (2019), a person dies by suicide every 40 seconds.

A Case Scenario

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.

Critical Evaluation:

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


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.

Kaur, J. and Manders, B. (2019) ‘Suicides in the UK: 2018 Registrations’, Office for National Statistics [Online]. Available at (Accessed 26 February 2020).

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.

United Nations News (2019), ‘One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds: new UN health agency report, 9 September [Online]. Available at (Accessed 23 February 2020).


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).


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). 

Apps Opinion

PM-cube: The Best Android Mental Health App for Academics

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. 


Butler, S. (2017) ‘Academic’, In Macquarie Dictionary, 7th ed [Online].Available at  (Accessed 2 February 2020).

Loftus, E. (2020) Professional Profile, UCI School of Social Ecology [Online]. Available at (Accessed 2 February 2020). 

Marxer, C. G. (2015) The Project Management Cube [Android App]. Available at (Accessed 2 February 2020). 


The Psychology of Obedience to Authority: Lessons Learned from the Holocaust

Nazi Germany was a true source of critical inquiry for academics worldwide. The work of Adorno et al. about authoritarianism through psychoanalytic theory,  and the work of Stanley Milgram about obedience influenced by situational factors are at the core of modern forensic psychology practice. Authoritarianism can be described as an attitude spectrum encompassing all types of prejudices, that is, xenophobia; as well as extreme ideologies in regards to discipline and traditions, that is, conventionalism (McAvoy, 2012). This essay seeks to explore the studies conducted by the mentioned above pioneers of forensic psychology during the post-war period in relation to the holocaust events. 

Xenophobic conventionalism was the main motivation driving the mass assassination of innocent people during WWII. This inspired Sanford to invite Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik and Levinson to join his psychological investigation project in the US, and they became a team often cited as “Adorno et al.” due to Harvard alphabetical referencing rules. They were interested in uncovering the unconscious psychopathology of war criminals, and this led them to create the F-scale (McAvoy, 2012). Based on psychoanalytic theory, they administered questionnaires and interviews to the masses in order to validate their hypotheses which drew a  correlation between extreme childhood trauma and overboard adult attitudes to authority (McAvoy, 2012). The trials being held at Nuremberg, Germany, were a powerful motivator behind social psychology research after the war (Bayard, 2012). Stanley Milgram studied Adorno et al.’s work meticulously and was interested in understanding authoritarian obedience and how it related to irresponsible cruelty. After watching the globally broadcasted trial of Adolf Eichmann in television during 1961, Milgram realised that ordinary people were capable of committing great acts of violence when following orders (Banyard, 2012).  Through systematic procedures and pressure from authoritarian figures, a death toll that today approximates seventeen million minority individuals was achieved. Homosexuals, dissenters, jews, activists, disabled people, and foreigners; all brutally discriminated against and murdered (Holocaust Encyclopedia, 2019). Milgram designed a social experiment in order to better understand the link between conscience, executive obedience, and authority in organised war crimes.  

Adorno et al. (1950, p. V) saw prejudice as a mental health virus: “Even a social disease has its periods of quiescence during which the social scientists […] can study it […] to prevent or reduce the virulence of the next outbreak”. They devised the F-scale with its subscales of ethnocentrism, politico-conservatism, and antisemitism (McAvoy, 2012). They used both, quantitative and qualitative methods: “Individuals were studied by means of interviews and special clinical techniques for revealing underlying wishes, fears, and defenses; groups were studied by means of questionnaires” (Adorno et al., 1950, p. 12). Tests had statements with predetermined scores that individuals could agree or disagree with. The interviews allowed the researchers to double-check whether a participant’s general demeanor matched the anti-democratic scores. Nevertheless, the overall study was not enough to determine the direction of the effect of authoritarianism, nor could this predict whether someone with the potential for fascism would actually act on their attitudes and join a fascist movement (McAvoy, 2012). “The modification of the potentially fascist structure cannot be achieved by psychological means alone. The task is comparable to that of eliminating neurosis, or delinquency, or nationalism from the world” (Adorno et al., 1950, p. 975). 

Social psychologist Stanley Milgram was impacted by such results. He modified the F-scale that Adorno et al. had created (Milgram, n.d.).  After witnessing the trial of ordinary-looking Adolf Eichmann, Milgram (1962) wanted to understand the difference between free and forced obedience in everyday life. He (Milgram, 1965, p. 57) reported: “In its more general form the problem may be defined thus: If X tells Y to hurt Z, under what conditions will Y carry out the command of X and under what conditions will he refuse [?]”. Questions like these had led him to design the base condition to test 40 normal-looking young males in 1962. They each would arrive at Yale University and would be greeted by an experimenter wearing a white coat. An actor played the role of fellow participant.  Everything was standardised, from the laboratory, to the confederates, and the apparatus (Banyard, 2012). Participants were asked to administer potentially lethal electric shocks to the actor playing learner. The electric shock machine looked realistic, but was only a prop. Milgram found that indeed normal people had the potential to harm with some pressure from an authority figure. Milgram (1963, p. 371) called this phenomena “destructive obedience in the laboratory”. He then administered the questionnaires to ratify the participants’ valence. 

The studies conducted by Adorno et al. (authoritarianism) and Stanley Milgram (obedience) gave forensic psychologists much detail in terms of personality, situational factors/influences, authority, and compliance in the system  (Byford, 2017). Monetary incentives were offered to participants in both studies: “This was the only way to insure that the staff of the Study would not be conscience-stricken” (Adorno et al., 1950, p. 26). WWII was a common theme in both approaches: “Gas chambers were built, death camps were guarded, daily quotas of corpses were produced with the same efficiency as the manufacture of appliances […] Obedience is the psychological mechanism that links individual action to political purpose” (Milgram, 1963, p. 371). Both experiments were carried out in the US, made use of pen and paper questionnaires, and included qualitative assessments; although the conditions, apparatuses, and  procedures were completely different. The results were controversial enough to elicit a lot of attention from the general public in both cases. Adorno et al.’s work was criticised for being based on psychoanalytic theory, and for the risk of acquiescence response bias (McAvoy, 2012). Milgram’s work got him in serious ethical trouble due to what he was able to uncover about his subjects; and how this impacted their real life, identities, and reputations (Banyard, 2012). Both teams reported their findings through writing, although Milgram also created a documentary about his experiment (Obedience, 1962). 

As it can be observed, there are many substantial similarities between Adorno et al.’s and Milgram’s experiments, even if these are different when it comes to structure. One preceded the next, and one added to the other. Authority and its relation to obedience can be better appreciated by drawing a correlation between the two approaches studied above. The results shed light on personality, and how adult behaviour can be a result of individual differences, as well as of contextual circumstances. Adorno et. al studied the master, and Milgram studied the slave. The general conclusion? Both sides are equally dangerous. 


Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. and Sanford, R.N. (1950) The Authoritarian Personality, New York, Harper.

Banyard, P. (2012)  ‘Just following orders?’, in Brace, N. and Byford, J. (eds) Investigating Psychology, Oxford, Oxford University Press/Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 61-95.

Byford, J. (2017) ‘The importance of replication’, in McAvoy, J. and Brace, N. (eds) Investigating Methods, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 47-82.

Holocaust Encyclopedia (2019) Documenting Number of Victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 2 April 2019)

McAvoy, J. (2012) ‘Exposing the Authoritarian Personality”, in Brace N. and Byford, J. (eds) Investigating Psychology, Oxford, Oxford University Press/Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 14-56 

Milgram, S. (n.d.). Modified “F” Scale, Opinion Questionnaire [Online]. Available at:|bibliographic_details|2089868 (Accessed 2 April 2019)

Milgram, S. (1962). ‘Free Obedience vs. Forced Obedience’ in Stanley Milgram Personal Papers [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 2 April 2019)

Milgram, S. (1963). ‘Behavioral Study of Obedience’, in Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, pp. 371-372 [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 2 April, 2019)

Milgram, S. (1965). ‘Some Conditions of Obedience and Disobedience to Authority’, in Human Relations, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 57-76 [Online]. Available at:|bibliographic_details|2082063 (Accessed 2 April, 2019)

Obedience (1962) Directed by Stanley Milgram [Documentary]. New Haven, Yale University. Available at: (Accessed 2 April 2019)


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.