Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hunting the successful psychopath

Put aside the dramatic Hollywood portrayals. Suited, married, high achieving, some of them walk among us. No, not vampires or super-heroes but 'successful psychopaths'. Like their criminally violent cousins - the standard psychopaths - these people are ruthless, callous, fearless and arrogant. But thanks to their superior self-control and conscientiousness, rather than landing in prison, they end up as company chief executives, university chancellors and Queen's Council barristers. Well, that's the idea anyway. But it's an idea that's proven difficult for psychologists to investigate. After all, if you advertise for volunteers for a study of successful people who are psychopathic, you're not likely to get many responses.

Stephanie Mullins-Sweatt and her collaborators tried a different tack. They surveyed hundreds of members of the American Psychological Association's Division 41 (psychology and law), criminal attorneys and professors of clinical psychology about whether they'd ever known personally an individual who was successful in their endeavours and who also matched Hare's definition of a psychopath (see below): 'social predators who charm, manipulate and ruthlessly plow their way through life ... completely lacking in conscience and feeling for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret.'

Of the 118 APA members, 31 attorneys and 58 psychology professors who replied, 81, 25 and 41, respectively, said they'd previously known a successful psycho. The examples given were predominantly male and included current or former students, colleagues, clients, and friends (sample descriptions here). The survey respondents were asked to rate the personality of the successful psychopath they'd known and to complete a psychopathy measure of that person. These ratings were then compared with the typical profile for a standard (unsuccessful) psychopath.

The key difference between successful and standard psychopaths seemed to be in conscientiousness. Providing some rare, concrete support for the 'successful psychopath' concept, the individuals described by the survey respondents were the same as prototypical psychopaths in all regards except they lacked the irresponsibility, impulsivity and negligence and instead scored highly on competence, order, achievement striving and self-discipline.

'The current study used informant descriptions to provide information about successful psychopaths,' the researchers concluded. 'Such persons have been described in papers and texts on psychopathy but only anecdotally. This was the first study to conduct a systematic, quantitative analysis of such persons.'
Mullins-Sweatt, S., Glover, N., Derefinko, K., Miller, J., & Widiger, T. (2010). The search for the successful psychopath. Journal of Research in Personality, 44 (4), 554-558 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2010.05.010

Robert Hare's Checklist (1991)

1. GLIB and SUPERFICIAL CHARM -- the tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick, and verbally facile. Psychopathic charm is not in the least shy, self-conscious, or afraid to say anything. A psychopath never gets tongue-tied. They have freed themselves from the social conventions about taking turns in talking, for example. >
2. GRANDIOSE SELF-WORTH -- a grossly inflated view of one's abilities and self-worth, self-assured, opinionated, cocky, a braggart. Psychopaths are arrogant people who believe they are superior human beings.
3. NEED FOR STIMULATION or PRONENESS TO BOREDOM -- an excessive need for novel, thrilling, and exciting stimulation; taking chances and doing things that are risky. Psychopaths often have a low self-discipline in carrying tasks through to completion because they get bored easily. They fail to work at the same job for any length of time, for example, or to finish tasks that they consider dull or routine. 
4. PATHOLOGICAL LYING -- can be moderate or high; in moderate form, they will be shrewd, crafty, cunning, sly, and clever; in extreme form, they will be deceptive, deceitful, underhanded, unscrupulous, manipulative, and dishonest.
5. CONNING AND MANIPULATIVENESS- the use of deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain; distinguished from Item #4 in the degree to which exploitation and callous ruthlessness is present, as reflected in a lack of concern for the feelings and suffering of one's victims.
6. LACK OF REMORSE OR GUILT -- a lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, cold hearted, and unempathic. This item is usually demonstrated by a disdain for one's victims.
7. SHALLOW AFFECT -- emotional poverty or a limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness in spite of signs of open gregariousness. 
8. CALLOUSNESS and LACK OF EMPATHY -- a lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless.
9. PARASITIC LIFESTYLE -- an intentional, manipulative, selfish, and exploitative financial dependence on others as reflected in a lack of motivation, low self-discipline, and inability to begin or complete responsibilities.
It was a quiet day for his inbox
10. POOR BEHAVIORAL CONTROLS -- expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper; acting hastily.
11. PROMISCUOUS SEXUAL BEHAVIOR -- a variety of brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs, and an indiscriminate selection of sexual partners; the maintenance of several relationships at the same time; a history of attempts to sexually coerce others into sexual activity or taking great pride at discussing sexual exploits or conquests.
12. EARLY BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS -- a variety of behaviours prior to age 13, including lying, theft, cheating, vandalism, bullying, sexual activity, fire-setting, glue-sniffing, alcohol use, and running away from home.
13. LACK OF REALISTIC, LONG-TERM GOALS -- an inability or persistent failure to develop and execute long-term plans and goals; a nomadic existence, aimless, lacking direction in life.
14. IMPULSIVITY -- the occurrence of behaviours that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation, frustrations, and urges; a lack of deliberation without considering the consequences; foolhardy, rash, unpredictable, erratic, and reckless.
15. IRRESPONSIBILITY -- repeated failure to fulfil or honour obligations and commitments; such as not paying bills, defaulting on loans, performing sloppy work, being absent or late to work, failing to honour contractual agreements.
16. FAILURE TO ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR OWN ACTIONS -- a failure to accept responsibility for one's actions reflected in low conscientiousness, an absence of dutifulness, antagonistic manipulation, denial of responsibility, and an effort to manipulate others through this denial.
17. MANY SHORT-TERM MARITAL RELATIONSHIPS -- a lack of commitment to a long-term relationship reflected in inconsistent, undependable, and unreliable commitments in life, including marital.
18. JUVENILE DELINQUENCY -- behaviour problems between the ages of 13-18; mostly behaviours that are crimes or clearly involve aspects of antagonism, exploitation, aggression, manipulation, or a callous, ruthless tough-mindedness.
19. REVOCATION OF CONDITION RELEASE -- a revocation of probation or other conditional release due to technical violations, such as carelessness, low deliberation, or failing to appear.
20. CRIMINAL VERSATILITY -- a diversity of types of criminal offenses, regardless if the person has been arrested or convicted for them; taking great pride at getting away with crimes.   
Hare, R. D. (1991). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.     
Less scientific and just for the craic of it, I hasten to add: read the following question, come up with an answer and then scroll down to the bottom for the result. This is not a trick question, it is as it reads.
A woman, while at the funeral of her own mother, met a man who she did not know. She thought he was 'amazing.' She believed him to be her dream partner so much, that she fell in love with him right there, but never asked for his number and could not find him. A few days later she killed her sister.

Question: What was her motive for killing her sister?
Give it some thought before you look.
See answer below:

Answer: She was hoping the guy would appear at the funeral again.

This is often claimed to be a test by a famous American Psychologist to see if one has the same mentality as a killer, however I have never found any citation or reference to its source. Anyhow, if you answered this correctly - you have the mentality of a psychopath....a person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behaviour without empathy or remorse.  If you couldn't answer the question correctly, then good for you pal.

Also if interested, check out Psychologist Kevin Dutton presenting the classic psychological test known as "the trolley problem" with a variation. View Clip
''Psychopaths...people who know the differences between right and wrong, but don't give a shit...''
                                                                                                                                                ~ Elmore Leonard

Monday, May 20, 2013

Is intelligence best understood in terms of 'g' (or as a multidimensional construct)?

Even after more than a century of research and theory development, there is still sharp disagreements about what intelligence is. Psychologists have not reached a consensus about how to define intelligence. Some common themes often include; adaption to the environment, the potential for individuals to understand the world around them, basic mental processes, higher-order thinking (e.g. reasoning), problem solving, and decision making.
Much of the debate around intelligence is whether it is a general ability or several distinct abilities.
The following is the APA task force definition: ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought, - a fairly comprehensive definition to say the least!
The argument for intelligence as a general ability was first advanced by a British psychologist named Charles Spearman (1863 - 1945), the first major theory of intelligence. General intelligence, also known as g factor, refers to the existence of a general intelligence that influences performance on mental ability measures - a single, unitary quality within the human mind. He interpreted it as the core of human intelligence.
According to Spearman, this g factor was responsible for overall performance on mental ability tests. Thus Spearman would argue that your performance in a maths test would depend mainly on your general intelligence but also on your specific ability to learn mathematics. Those who hold this view believe that intelligence can be measured and expressed by a single number, such as an IQ score. The idea is that this underlying general intelligence influences performance on all cognitive tasks.
Further, it captures the kinds of general mental flexibility needed to cope with novelty, read the environment, draw conclusions and choose how and when to act (Lubinski, 2004).
However, an important question to be asked about intelligence is how much of our intelligence is shaped by genetic factors and how much by the environment we live in? It has long been recognised that genes and the environment are not additive, in the sense that x percent of intelligence is caused by genes and y percent by the environment. Rather, they interact with each other in causing the development of all human characteristics, including intelligence.
''Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven''
                             ~ Edward De Bono

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Did Jesus have the IQ of a Cornflake?

The Flynn Effect, this 'rising-curve' phenomenon is James Flynn's explanation of the rise in mean IQ scores during the 20th century (Rowe & Rodgers, 2002). He and his colleagues were the first to notice this rise and it is now fairly accepted that there is one. The phenomenon was first observed in New Zealand in the 1980’s, that different generations of people seemed to be scoring increasingly higher results in standard intelligence tests. It has been shown and is universally accepted that word knowledge has risen significantly in the last 20 years by about 5 verbal IQ points (Nettelbeck & Wilson, 2004).

''Ah, I see! So the line going up means more smarteredness''

''If the present generation is put at 100, their grandparents had a mean IQ of 82.36.  Either today's children are so bright that they should run circles around us, or their grandparents were so dull that it is surprising that they could keep a modern society ticking over'' (Flynn).
One could argue that the Flynn Effect is not down to biological factors but more so environmental factors (Nijenhuis, 2011), such as the advances in technology and education, e.g. that technology aids the transmission of information to all corners of the globe. Better nutrition and more education possibilities may have resulted in IQ improvements for each generation (APA).

We're living in an era of smart phones and stupid people

Sunday, May 05, 2013

''Is this a Neologism I See Before Me?''

They say that the average human being has a lexicon of about 10,000 words. While Shakespeare had a vocabulary of 60,000 including the introduction of about 3,000 words alone to the English language . . . But hey, screw Shakespeare! Nobody likes a show-off.
Seemingly the benchmark of an educated mind usually correlates with the size of the person's vocabulary. So in attempts to overtake Shakespeare and his MASSIVE . . . dictionary, people seem to be continually creating their own neologisms - newly coined words or expressions.

"These words are razors to my wounded heart"...well suck it up Tarquin, spoken language is only about 50,000 years old, and we're only getting around to the good stuff now!

1) mouse potato A 21st century version of the couch potato.
2) yellular The loudness one adopts during a bad cell phone connection.
3) academic bulimia Cram study session that results in everything you've learned being 'ink-puked' onto the paper; with immediate forgetting of everything you've learned.
4) spillion An immense number, especially of gallons of oil in the Gulf spill.
5) fatacular Spectacularly fat.
6) vegetarian A bad hunter; someone who survives by consuming not food, but the stuff food eats.
7) brickberry old, out-dated, monstrosity of a phone
8) staycation Takes time off but stays at home.
9) stitch n' bitch A gathering of women who like to partake in some knitting while having a good 'aul rant.
10) seagull manager A manager who flies in, makes a lot of noise, sh*ts on everything, and then leaves.
11) 404 Clueless.
12) Christmas bogus Receiving nothing from your employer at Christmas.
13) awk-word Difficult word to pronounce.
14) Darth Breather That annoying person wheezing away beside you at the cinema.
15) Bro Favor As opposed to 'Por Favor'; undertaken by a friend.
16) Frisbee-tarianism The belief that when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
17) piss-hap A mishap that generally involves you getting sh*t-faced.
18) Writer's Crap As opposed to 'cramp'.
19) Resolution rush people who swarm to the gym in the weeks after New Years.
20) scrou-venir Anything that you've kept (or stolen) from someone's house after you've slept with them.

Just another 49,980 and we'll be laughing...


- Chomsky would be turning in his . . ? . . bed . . . , if he heard some of this nonsense!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

The Crisis Point of Obesity - With Notable Attention on Childhood

A person is regarded as being obese if they are more than 20 per cent overweight. A healthy BMI stops at 25 and the obese range begins at 30. In Ireland, there are people being treated with BMI's above 50! The average weight per person - we are a couple of stone heavier than we were 30 years ago! This country has over 900,000 people who are obese - resulting in the deaths of nearly 6,000 people each year. The annual cost to the healthcare system - 3 billion euros and counting.

Professor Donal O'Shea is synonymous with the fight against obesity in Ireland and paints a dim picture of where this country is heading, ''Nationally we are losing the battle, we are not reacting to it, either personally or as a society. You only have to look to the States and see where they are, it's not a pretty vista ahead'' (see gif below).
Obesity is now recognised as a ‘global epidemic’ by the World Health Organization (National Taskforce on Obesity, 2005). Along with adults, children are affected by obesity and in Ireland alone it is estimated that 300,000 children are currently overweight or obese (NTO, 2005).

Prof. Donal O'Shea
''It's now unusual to be of normal weight. It's no longer a ticking time bomb - the bomb has exploded - we're at the bomb site'' (O'Shea, 2012).
The epidemic of childhood obesity has been highlighted as a major health concern for today’s youth. It was reported in 2005 that an estimated 20 million children worldwide under the age of 5 were obese (World Health Organisation). The suspected causes of obesity are complex and include environmental and heritable factors (Crothers, 2009), along with lifestyle choices (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010).
Research also suggests that genetic factors have a role in obesity. With more than 200 genes being linked as possible contributors to obesity, it is highly relevant to look at obesity from a biological point of view. It has been suggested that some people are just predisposed to become overweight, with the heritability of obesity being high (Hinney, 2010), and also the positive correlation between maternal pre-pregnancy obesity influencing early childhood obesity has  been highlighted (Salsberry & Reagan, 2005).

As the obesity number in Ireland nears 1 million, it is clear that we are a country in crisis.

Although research shows that some people with a family history of obesity may be more inclined to gain weight, the recent rapid increase in childhood obesity indicates that lifestyle and not genetic contributions is the primary cause (NTO, 2005).
There's more to life than sitting and eating in front of a television.
A lifestyle revolving around the consumption of energy dense foods and a decrease in physical activity creates an environment termed ‘obesogenic’ by the World Health Organization in 1998 (Health Service Executive, 2009). The lifestyle of this environment promotes people to eat too much and exercise too little, creating an energy imbalance which results in weight gain. With a report claiming that children in the United States spend on average 3 hours per day watching television (Committee on Public Communications, 2010), it is possible to see that technological factors could also have a role in promoting an inactive lifestyle. Sedentary behaviours like this are often coupled with eating at the same time (Crothers, 2009). Children spending more time watching television will thus result in less time to engage in physical activities and exercise.
The possibility of childhood obesity being determined by Socio Economic Status has been examined as an environmental factor (Stamatakis, 2010). The researchers stated that obesity affects both developed and developing countries alike, but in their study they found that childhood obesity among school children in England had stabilized in recent years, however children from low income households had not benefitted from this trend.

With some of the possible causes being outlined above, what are the health implications for those children affected? The answer is manifold. A result of being overweight can include a lower quality of life (CDC, 2010), an increase in a child’s risk of health problems including; Type-2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and many types of cancer in later life as well as shortening overall life expectancy (Health Service Executive, 2011).

Regarding obesity in general, Prof. O'Shea remarks, ''With smoking you can point to the heart, point to the lungs, heart attacks, lung cancer and stroke. But with weight related diseases, it's everything; in the brain, your talking about depression, dementia, oesophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, heart disease, wear and tear on the hip and knees, right down to your big toe and gout. So everything is made worse by being overweight and it's all remedial''.

You move in a cycle of ups and downs - food adds to the ups and simultaneously creates the downs.
Obese children are often the target of stereotypes and discrimination, where being a member of a visibly stigmatised group makes it hard to avoid being prejudiced against. Obesity in childhood not only has health implications but also impacts on the child’s psychological well-being.

Over the last three decades our eating habits have changed dramatically, as the country has been flooded with takeaways, hot deli's and breakfast rolls. If you are any way susceptible to temptation, what hope have you? For many, fast food has become a staple.

How America's BMI average has increased ~ CDC
''Parents can't let their children drift the way society is encouraging them to drift'' (O'Shea, 2012). Restrictions on unhealthy food advertising has been suggested as one possible method to prevent children from being influenced by these high calorie foods (Udell & Mehta, 2008), while Carter (2002) suggests a balanced diet consisting of no more than 3 meals per day, fewer high calorie foods and the replacement of sugary drinks like soda, to water.

''Our physical education in schools has failed us . . . it should be focused on health and wellbeing, and sport and activity should only be one part'' (Prof. Niall Moynan, DCU).

'It doesn't matter how slow you go,
you're still lapping everybody on the couch'
Scientific evidence shows that physical activity (PA) helps to maintain a healthy body weight, with people between the ages of 5 to 17 being recommended to accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity PA daily (World Health Organisation, 2011). Physical activity also contributes to the development of healthy bones, muscles and joints, a healthy cardiovascular system and neuromuscular awareness. These benefits demonstrate the role sports and exercise have for overweight children. But common sense also plays a role. Lucozade Sport is great, but to have a five-year-old child drinking 300 calories and only burning off 100 is defeating the purpose entirely.

The further you let yourself go, the longer of a battle it is to get back.
Others highlight behavioural changes to help treat obesity (Stewart, Chapple, Hughes, Poustie, & Reilly, 2008). The authors proposed that the use of behavioural change techniques can enhance the motivation of a child by increasing self-awareness of their lifestyle behaviours. Goal setting for changes in diet and physical activity levels, rewards for achieving such goals and the monitoring of diet and low mobile activities (e.g. viewing television), allows the child to monitor progress towards a healthier lifestyle.

''Once you get over a certain weight, people are getting more despairing - you start giving up, nothing is working and they almost give in to the inevitability of more weight gain. There is no magic solution'' (Ruth Yoder - Senior Psychologist at St. Colmcilles Hospital Weight Management Clinic).
Parents and caregivers have a responsibility to promote change in their children. They have an immediate impact on shaping their child’s early food environments, attitudes on nutritional information and eating behaviours such as appropriate portion sizes (Anzman, 2010).
The global epidemic of childhood obesity is a modern health concern. Research discussed above suggests that childhood obesity is multi-faceted and has numerous and complex variables. One research paper highlighted that some people are possibly just predisposed to be overweight (Hinney, 2010), but with such a rapid increase in those affected by childhood obesity, the lifestyle choices and environmental factors are the more relevant contributors to the problem. People living in a modern day ‘obesogenic’ environment that nurtures weight gain is a considerable problem. Eating too much food, more time spent on sedentary activities, and a lack of health benefitting physical activities like sport, all invariably lead to weight gain. With more unique research proposals on the causes of childhood obesity being related to  socio-economic status, it could be argued that this problem is more than just genetic or diet related.

''At the moment we have a situation where we are sleepwalking into a condition that is killing between 5000 - 6000 people in Ireland every year'' (O'Shea, 2012).
Along with the stigma of carrying excess bodyweight, the health implications of being obese are paramount. In Ireland, 25% of three-year-olds are either overweight or obese. ''The younger you put it on, the bigger you can go'' (O'Shea, 2012). Children should not have to start out life already one step behind in terms of their health.

There are however ways of combatting these problems. By limiting the exposure of certain food advertising (Udell & Mehta, 2008), changing children’s behaviours and cognitions towards their current lifestyle (Stewart, 2008), increasing their time spent with physical activity (WHO, 2011), some simple diet changes (Carter, 2002), and nutritional education from  their primary caregivers (Anzman, 2010), the children and young adults affected by this current epidemic can start to look at its causes as possibly preventable and start to lose weight while adding longevity to their futures.

''We're dealing with the kids of 30 years ago, and we're dreading the kids of today in 30 years'' (O'Shea, 2012).