Andrea Harner
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May 12, 2009

Check out today's Science Times section of the NY Times for lots of forensics related articles!!!

April 9, 2009

Arizona: Fake Student Sentenced. What a stand-up guy.
A youthful-looking sex offender who posed as a 12-year-old boy to enroll in several Arizona schools was sentenced to more than 70 years in prison. The man, Neil H. Rodreick II, 31, pleaded guilty last year to seven criminal charges. Most involved child pornography, but two stemmed from the charade he pulled off for two years. Mr. Rodreick attended schools in Payson, Prescott Valley and Surprise starting in 2005. The authorities said he shaved and wore makeup to help him appear younger, convincing teachers, students and administrators that he was a boy named Casey. He was caught in January 2007 after spending a day in the seventh grade at a Chino Valley school when school officials became suspicious because his birth certificate and other documents looked forged. They had initially thought they might be dealing with a child who had been abducted.

* via NY Times print edition!

April 7, 2009

Radiologist Adds a Human Touch: Photos By Dina Kraft, NY Times

THIS IS ONE OF THOSE ARTICLES THAT MAKE YOU GO, OF COURSE! DUH! WHY WASN'T THIS ALWAYS THE PROTOCOL? I AM A BIG DR. TURNER FAN.

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When Dr. Yehonatan N. Turner began his residency in radiology, he was frustrated that the CT scans he analyzed revealed nothing about the patients behind them — only their internal organs. So to make things personal, he imagined each patient was his father.

But then he had a better idea: attach a photograph of the actual patient to each file.

“I was looking for a way to make each case feel unique and less abstract,” said Dr. Turner, 36, now a third-year resident at Shaare Zedek Medical Center here. “I thought having a photo of the patient would help me relate in a deeper way.”

Dr. Turner’s hunch turned into an unusual medical study. Its preliminary findings, presented in Chicago last December at a conference of the Radiological Society of North America, suggested that when a digital photograph was attached to a patient’s file, radiologists provided longer, more meticulous reports. And they said they felt more connected to the patients, whom they seldom meet face to face.

In the digital age, adding a photo to a file is a simple procedure, and the study’s authors say they hope it becomes a standard procedure — not just for radiologists but also for pathologists and other doctors who rarely have contact with patients.

Radiologists spend most of their working hours in darkened rooms with large, high-resolution computer screens where they read and analyze dozens of scans and X-rays each day.

The process can feel mechanical and detached. But Dr. Jonathan Halevy, the director of Shaare Zedek, says that “when there is a picture, your attitude and approach changes — the human aspect is inserted.”

Important clues to patients’ conditions can sometimes be seen in their faces. Clicking through photos of patients who participated in the study, Dr. Turner pointed to an older man with a bruiselike hematoma around the eyes — a possible sign of brain injury. Paleness or jaundice might indicate various kinds of organ problems.

In the initial study, a group of Shaare Zedek radiologists rotated through three groupings, reviewing more than 300 files of patients who had agreed to have their pictures taken.

In the first group, radiologists received a photo of the patient along with the file; after three months they reviewed the same file, this time without the picture. In the second group, they interpreted the patient’s file without a photo, and three months later were presented with the same file, this time with a photo. A control group interpreted scans without photos.

The researchers found that the radiologists’ reports were significantly more thorough in all cases when a photograph was attached to a patient’s scan. Reports were longer, more recommendations made, summaries usually included and more incidental findings recorded.

In a questionnaire that was also part of the study, the radiologists said that the photos helped them relate better to the patients and that they themselves felt “more like physicians.”

Continue reading...

April 6, 2009

Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory By Benedict Carey, NY Times

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Suppose scientists could erase certain memories by tinkering with a single substance in the brain. Could make you forget a chronic fear, a traumatic loss, even a bad habit.

Researchers in Brooklyn have recently accomplished comparable feats, with a single dose of an experimental drug delivered to areas of the brain critical for holding specific types of memory, like emotional associations, spatial knowledge or motor skills.

The drug blocks the activity of a substance that the brain apparently needs to retain much of its learned information. And if enhanced, the substance could help ward off dementias and other memory problems.

So far, the research has been done only on animals. But scientists say this memory system is likely to work almost identically in people.

The discovery of such an apparently critical memory molecule, and its many potential uses, are part of the buzz surrounding a field that, in just the past few years, has made the seemingly impossible suddenly probable: neuroscience, the study of the brain.

“If this molecule is as important as it appears to be, you can see the possible implications,” said Dr. Todd C. Sacktor, a 52-year-old neuroscientist who leads the team at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, in Brooklyn, which demonstrated its effect on memory. “For trauma. For addiction, which is a learned behavior. Ultimately for improving memory and learning.”

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March 30, 2009

Explaining Fiscal Foolishness--Psychology and the Economy: A behavioral scientist discusses the irrational human impulses that led to the economic downturn, Scientific American Mind magazine
Peter A. Ubel is professor of medicine and psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he explores the quirks in human nature that influence our health, happiness and society. He is author of the book Free Market Madness (Harvard Business School Press, 2009), which investigates the irrational tics that lead people to overbid on eBay, eat too much ice cream and take out mortgages they cannot afford. In an interview with Jonah Lehrer, Ubel explains how innate optimism, greed and ignorance can depress financial and physical well-being—and how individuals can commit to change.

Scientific American Mind: Your new book, Free Market Madness, argues that conventional economics, which assumes that humans are rational agents acting in their own self-interest, is deeply naive and scientifically unrealistic. Instead you describe a brain brimming with biases and flaws. Do you think these flaws are responsible for the latest economic turmoil? If so, how?

Peter Ubel: Irrationality is responsible for the economic mess we find ourselves in
right now—irrationality plus greed, of course, and a sub­stan­tial dose of ignorance. Let us start with ignorance. I am sad to say that many Americans have a difficult time with even simple math—around a third of American adults cannot calculate 10 percent of 1,000. People who struggle with concepts such as percents have an extremely difficult time with more complicated ideas, such as compounding of savings and, very relevant to our cur­rent crisis, adjustable-rate mortgages.

To make matters worse, most of us are hardwired for optimism. Ask us how we rate as drivers, and the vast majority of us are convinced we are above average—even those of us who have gotten into multiple car accidents. As a result of our unrealistic optimism, we are convinced that our incomes will rise fast enough to keep up with our outsized mortgage, or that our adjustable rate will not rise, or that our house’s value will indefinitely outpace inflation. We are social beings, too, and frequently judge our own decisions by seeing what other people are doing. If my neighbor added on a new kitchen with a home equity loan, I might assume that is a good idea for me, even if a more rational weighing of my finances would suggest otherwise. Even savvy financiers can get caught up in irrational impulses. If a competitor’s firm makes huge profits on risky loans, it is easy for me to push aside my fears about such risks: if he took those risks and was rewarded, maybe I overestimated the risks!

Mind: What can eBay teach us about human irrationality?

Ubel: eBay auctions help to reveal the rational and irrational forces driving consumer behavior. People are often quite rational, after all. Raise the price of a T-shirt, and generally, fewer people will buy it. Reduce the quality of a good, and you better reduce its price, too! But behavioral economists have analyzed eBay data to help identify some ways that consumers act irrationally. [For more on eBay and irrationality, see “Is Greed Good?” by Christoph Uhlhaas; Scientific American Mind, August/September 2007.] Offer a really low price for opening bids, a price everyone knows will not be the final selling price, and you nonetheless lure some consumers into making an initial bid. That increases the number of people bidding on the product, which makes it look more attractive, thereby generating even more bids. And then bidders, who knew the price would rise from their initial bids, get emotionally attached to the product and keep raising their offers. Now you know why it makes sense to tell people that bids for that Picasso hanging in your living room can start at $5!

Mind: You also argue that by taking our own irrationality into account, we can improve our health and well-being. Can you provide an example of a way to achieve such improvement?

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March 12, 2009

Europeans Debate Castration of Sex Offenders By Dan Bilefsky, NY Times

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Pavel remembers the violent night sweats two days before the murder. He went to see a family doctor, who said they would go away. But after viewing a Bruce Lee martial arts film, he said, he felt uncontrollable sexual desires. He invited a 12-year-old neighbor home. Then he stabbed the boy repeatedly.

His psychiatrist says Pavel derived his sexual pleasure from the violence.

More than 20 years have passed. Pavel, then 18, spent seven years in prison and five years in a psychiatric institution. During his last year in prison, he asked to be surgically castrated. Having his testicles removed, he said, was like draining the gasoline from a car hard-wired to crash. A large, dough-faced man, he is sterile and has forsaken marriage, romantic relationships and sex, he said. His life revolves around a Catholic charity, where he is a gardener.

“I can finally live knowing that I am no harm to anybody,” he said during an interview at a McDonald’s here, as children played loudly nearby. “I am living a productive life. I want to tell people that there is help.”

He refused to give his last name for fear of being hounded.

Whether castration can help rehabilitate violent sex offenders has come under new scrutiny after the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee last month called surgical castration “invasive, irreversible and mutilating” and demanded that the Czech Republic stop offering the procedure to violent sex offenders. Other critics said that castration threatened to lead society down a dangerous road toward eugenics.

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March 11, 2009

Eyewitness Testimony Parts 1 & 2 on 60 Minutes

March 3, 2009

This makes sense to me - I am so getting a toward-facing stroller: One Ride Forward, Two Steps Back By M. Suzanne Zeedyk, NY Times Op-Ed
Are forward-facing strollers having a negative effect on babies’ language development? British teachers have for some time been observing a decline in the linguistic abilities of many children, and some have wondered whether this might be one contributing factor.

There may be something in this idea. Babies who face ahead cannot see their parents or caregivers and thus have difficulty interacting with them. On loud city streets, babies may have trouble even hearing parents talking to them.

Neuroscience has shown that brains develop faster between birth and age 3 than during any other period of life, and that social interaction fosters such neurological development. So, if babies spend a significant amount of time during their early years in forward-facing strollers, might it impede their language learning?

Britain’s National Literacy Trust commissioned my research team to look into this question. No previous research had been carried out, and strollers, or “buggies” in British parlance, haven’t always faced forward. In the 19th century, they were designed so that infants faced the person pushing them. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that collapsible strollers emerged, with engineering constraints causing them to face forward.

We observed 2,700 families with young children walking along main streets in cities and villages throughout Britain. We found that forward-facing strollers were by far the most common, but that babies in them were the least likely to be interacting socially. When traveling with their babies in forward-facing strollers, caregivers were observed speaking to infants in only 11 percent of cases, while the figure was 25 percent for those using toward-facing strollers, and even higher for those carrying children or walking with them.

Could it be that parents who buy toward-facing strollers simply talk more? Probably not. In a follow-up exploratory study, we gave 20 mothers and infants aged 9 to 24 months a chance to try out both stroller types, and recorded their conversations. Mothers talked to their children twice as much during the 15-minute toward-facing journey, and they also laughed more. The babies laughed more, too.

Of course, infants do not spend all their time in strollers, but anecdotal evidence suggests that babies can easily spend a couple of hours a day in them. And research tells us that children’s vocabulary development is governed almost entirely by the daily conversations parents have with them. When a stroller pusher can’t easily see the things that attract a baby’s attention, valuable opportunities for interaction can be missed.

Ours was a preliminary study, intended to raise questions rather than to provide answers. It is now clear that future research on the effects of stroller design would be worthwhile.

Meanwhile, the findings already encourage us to think again about how babies experience stroller rides — and other forms of transportation like car seats, shopping carts and slings. Parents needn’t feel worried, but instead curious about the elements of the environment that attract their children’s interest. The core message of our findings is simple: Talk to your baby whenever you get the chance — and whichever direction your stroller faces.

For their part, stroller manufacturers should keep in mind how much their products are likely to shape children’s development. Let’s give an award to the first one who can produce an easily collapsible stroller that faces both ways — and is affordable for all parents.

* via NY Times Op-Ed.

February 25, 2009

After Abuse, Changes in the Brain By Benedict Carey, NY Times
For years, psychiatrists have known that children who are abused or neglected run a high risk of developing mental problems later in life, from anxiety and depression to substance abuse and suicide.

The connection is not surprising, but it raises a crucial scientific question: Does the abuse cause biological changes that may increase the risk for these problems?

Over the past decade or so, researchers at McGill University in Montreal, led by Michael Meaney, have shown that affectionate mothering alters the expression of genes in animals, allowing them to dampen their physiological response to stress. These biological buffers are then passed on to the next generation: rodents and nonhuman primates biologically primed to handle stress tend to be more nurturing to their own offspring, Dr. Meaney and other researchers have found.

Now, for the first time, they have direct evidence that the same system is at work in humans. In a study of people who committed suicide published Sunday in the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers in Montreal report that people who were abused or neglected as children showed genetic alterations that likely made them more biologically sensitive to stress.

The findings help clarify the biology behind the wounds of a difficult childhood and hint at what constitutes resilience in those able to shake off such wounds.

The study “extends the animal work on the regulation of stress to humans in a dramatic way,” Jaak Panksepp, an adjunct professor at Washington State University who was not involved in the research, wrote in an e-mail message.

He added that the study “suggests pathways that have promoted the psychic pain that makes life intolerable,” and continued, “It’s a wonderful example of how the study of animal models of emotional resilience can lead the way to understanding human vicissitudes.”

In the study, scientists at McGill and the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences compared the brains of 12 people who had committed suicide and who had had difficult childhoods with 12 people who had committed suicide and who had not suffered abuse or neglect as children.

The scientists determined the nature of the subjects’ upbringing by doing extensive interviews with next of kin, as well as investigating medical records. The brains are preserved at Douglas Hospital in Montreal as part of the Quebec Suicide Brain Bank, a program founded by McGill researchers to promote suicide studies that receives brain donations from around the province.

When people are under stress, the hormone cortisol circulates widely, putting the body on high alert. One way the brain reduces this physical anxiety is to make receptors on brain cells that help clear the cortisol, inhibiting the distress and protecting neurons from extended exposure to the hormone, which can be damaging.

The researchers found that the genes that code for these receptors were about 40 percent less active in people who had been abused as children than in those who had not. The scientists found the same striking differences between the abused group and the brains of 12 control subjects, who had not been abused and who died from causes other than suicide. “It is good evidence that the same systems are at work in humans that we have seen in other animals,” said Patrick McGowan, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Meaney’s lab at McGill and the lead author of the study.

His co-authors, along with Dr. Meaney, were Aya Sasaki, Ana C. D’Alessio, Sergiy Dymov, Benoît Labonté and Moshe Szyf, all of McGill, and Dr. Gustavo Turecki, a McGill researcher who leads the Brain Bank.

Because of individual differences in the genetic machinery that regulates stress response, experts say, many people manage their distress despite awful childhoods. Others may find solace in other people, which helps them regulate the inevitable pain of living a full life.

“The bottom line is that this is a terrific line of work, but there is a very long way to go either to understand the effects of early experience or the causes of mental disorders,” Dr. Steven Hyman, a professor of neurobiology at Harvard, wrote in an e-mail message.

* via The New York Times.

December 17, 2008

Interesting article on behavioral changes in this economy and my friend Beth is quoted! And see how easily psychology can become forensic psychology?!

Downturn spurs "survival panic" for some. By Nicole Maestri, Reuters.

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A paralegal, recently laid off, wanted to get back at the "establishment" that he felt was to blame for his lost job. So when he craved an expensive new tie, he went out and stole one.

The story, relayed by psychiatrist Timothy Fong at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital, is an example of the rash behaviors exhibited by more Americans as a recession undermines a lifestyle built on spending.

In the coming months, mental health experts expect a rise in theft, depression, drug use, anxiety and even violence as consumers confront a harsh new reality and must live within diminished means.

"People start seeing their economic situation change, and it stimulates a sort of survival panic," said Gaetano Vaccaro, deputy clinical director of Moonview Sanctuary, which treats patients for emotional and behavioral disorders.

"When we are in a survival panic, we are prone to really extreme behaviors."

The U.S. recession that took hold in December last year has threatened personal finances in many ways as home prices fall, investments sour, retirement funds shrink, access to credit diminishes and jobs evaporate.

It is also a rude awakening for a generation of shoppers who grew up on easy access to credit and have never had to limit purchases to simply what they needed or could afford.

Instead, buying and consuming have become part of the national culture, with many people using what is in their shopping bags to express their own identity, from the latest gadgets to designer handbags.

For those who need to abruptly curtail spending, that leaves a major void, said James Gottfurcht, clinical psychologist and president of "Psychology of Money Consultants," which coaches clients on money issues.

"People that have been ... identifying with and defining themselves by their material objects and expenditures are losing a definite piece of their identity and themselves," he said. "They have to learn how to replace that."

DEPRESSION TRIGGER

Beth Rosenberg, a New York freelance educator and self-professed bargain hunter, said she stopped shopping for herself after her husband lost his publishing job in June.

She is now buying her son toys from the popular movie Madagascar for $2 at McDonald's, and is wearing clothes that have hung untouched in her closet for years. She said it has been stressful to stick to an austere budget after she used to easily splurge on $100 boots.

"I miss it," she said of shopping.

Resisting temptation now could be even more difficult, as struggling retailers roll out massive discounts to lure shoppers during the holiday season.

Continue reading...

December 6, 2008

OMG: White Supremacist Mug Shots Before & After

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* via BuzzFeed!

November 23, 2008

Suffering Souls: The search for the roots of psychopathy by John Seabrook, New Yorker

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The Western New Mexico Correctional Facility sits in high-desert country about seventy miles west of Albuquerque. Grants, a former uranium boomtown that depends heavily on prison work, is a few miles down the road. There’s a glassed-in room at the top of the prison tower, with louvred windows and, on the ceiling, a big crank that operates a searchlight. In a box on the floor are some tear-gas shells that can be fired down into the yard should there be a riot. Below is the prison complex—a series of low six-sided buildings, divided by high hurricane fences topped with razor wire that glitters fiercely in the desert sun. To the east is the snow-covered peak of Mt. Taylor, the highest in the region; to the west, the Zuni Mountains are visible in the blue distance.

One bright morning last April, Dr. Kent Kiehl strode across the parking lot to the entrance, saying, “I guarantee that by the time we reach the gate the entire inmate population will know I’m here.” Kiehl—the Doc, as the inmates call him—was dressed in a blue blazer and a yellow tie. He is tall, broad-shouldered, and barrel-chested, with neat brown hair and small ears; he looks more like a college football player, which was his first ambition, than like a cognitive neuroscientist. But when he speaks, in an unexpectedly high-pitched voice, he becomes that know-it-all kid in school who intimidated you with his combination of superior knowledge and bluster.

At thirty-eight, Kiehl is one of the world’s leading younger investigators in psychopathy, the condition of moral emptiness that affects between fifteen to twenty-five per cent of the North American prison population, and is believed by some psychologists to exist in one per cent of the general adult male population. (Female psychopaths are thought to be much rarer.) Psychopaths don’t exhibit the manias, hysterias, and neuroses that are present in other types of mental illness. Their main defect, what psychologists call “severe emotional detachment”—a total lack of empathy and remorse—is concealed, and harder to describe than the symptoms of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. This absence of easily readable signs has led to debate among mental-health practitioners about what qualifies as psychopathy and how to diagnose it. Psychopathy isn’t identified as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association’s canon; instead, a more general term, “antisocial personality disorder,” known as A.P.D., covers the condition.

There is also little consensus among researchers about what causes psychopathy. Considerable evidence, including several large-scale studies of twins, points toward a genetic component. Yet psychopaths are more likely to come from neglectful families than from loving, nurturing ones. Psychopathy could be dimensional, like high blood pressure, or it might be categorical, like leukemia. Researchers argue over whether tests used to measure it should focus on behavior or attempt to incorporate personality traits—like deceitfulness, glibness, and lack of remorse—as well. The only point on which everyone agrees is that psychopathy is extremely difficult to treat. And for some researchers the word “psychopath” has been tainted by its long and seamy relationship with criminality and popular culture, which began with true-crime pulps and continues today in TV shows like CBS’s “Criminal Minds” and in the work of authors like Thomas Harris and Patricia Cornwell. The word is so loaded with baleful connotations that it tends to empurple any surrounding prose.

Kiehl is frustrated by the lack of respect shown to psychopathy by the mental-health establishment. “Think about it,” he told me. “Crime is a trillion-dollar-a-year problem. The average psychopath will be convicted of four violent crimes by the age of forty. And yet hardly anyone is funding research into the science. Schizophrenia, which causes much less crime, has a hundred times more research money devoted to it.” I asked why, and Kiehl said, “Because schizophrenics are seen as victims, and psychopaths are seen as predators. The former we feel empathy for, the latter we lock up.”

In January of 2007, Kiehl arranged to have a portable functional magnetic-resonance-imaging scanner brought into Western—the first fMRI ever installed in a prison. So far, he has recruited hundreds of volunteers from among the inmates. The data from these scans, Kiehl hopes, will confirm his theory, published in Psychiatry Research, in 2006, that psychopathy is caused by a defect in what he calls “the paralimbic system,” a network of brain regions, stretching from the orbital frontal cortex to the posterior cingulate cortex, that are involved in processing emotion, inhibition, and attentional control. His dream is to confound the received wisdom by helping to discover a treatment for psychopathy. “If you could target the brain region involved, then maybe you could find a drug that treats that region,” he told me. “If you could treat just five per cent of them, that would be a Nobel Prize right there.”

Continue reading...

October 2, 2008

Psychoanalytic Therapy Wins Backing By Benedict Carey, NY Times Health

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Intensive psychoanalytic therapy, the “talking cure” rooted in the ideas of Freud, has all but disappeared in the age of drug treatments and managed care.

But now researchers are reporting that the therapy can be effective against some chronic mental problems, including anxiety and borderline personality disorder.

In a review of 23 studies of such treatment involving 1,053 patients, the researchers concluded that the therapy, given as often as three times a week, in many cases for more than a year, relieved symptoms of those problems significantly more than did some shorter-term therapies.

The authors, writing in Wednesday’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, strongly urged scientists to undertake more testing of psychodynamic therapy, as it is known, before it is lost altogether as a historical curiosity.

The review is the first such evaluation of psychoanalysis to appear in a major medical journal, and the studies on which the new paper was based are not widely known among doctors.

The field has resisted scientific scrutiny for years, arguing that the process of treatment is highly individualized and so does not easily lend itself to such study. It is based on Freud’s idea that symptoms are rooted in underlying, often longstanding psychological conflicts that can be discovered in part through close examination of the patient-therapist relationship.

Experts cautioned that the evidence cited in the new research was still too meager to claim clear superiority for psychoanalytic therapy over different treatments, like cognitive behavior therapy, a shorter-term approach. The studies that the authors reviewed are simply not strong enough, these experts said.

“But this review certainly does seem to contradict the notion that cognitive or other short-term therapies are better than any others,” said Bruce E. Wampold, chairman of the department of counseling psychology at the University of Wisconsin. “When it’s done well, psychodynamic therapy appears to be just as effective as any other for some patients, and this strikes me as a turning point” for such intensive therapy.

The researchers, Falk Leichsenring of the University of Giessen and Sven Rabung of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, both in Germany, reviewed only those studies in which the therapy had been frequent — more than once a week in many cases — and had lasted at least a year or, alternatively, had been 50 sessions long. Further, the studies had to have followed patients closely, using strict definitions of improvement.

The investigators examined studies that tracked patients with a variety of mental problems, among them severe depression, anorexia nervosa and borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by a fear of abandonment and dark squalls of despair and neediness.

Psychodynamic therapy, Dr. Leichsenring wrote in an e-mail message, “showed significant, large and stable treatment effects which even significantly increased between the end of treatment and follow-up assessment.”

The review found no correlation between patients’ improvement and the length of treatment. But improve they did, and psychiatrists said it was clear that patients with severe, chronic emotional problems benefited from the steady, frequent, close attention that psychoanalysts provide.

“If you define borderline personality broadly as an inability to regulate emotions, it characterizes a lot of people who show up in clinics, whether their given diagnosis is depression, pediatric bipolar or substance abuse,” said Dr. Andrew J. Gerber, a psychiatrist at Columbia. For some of those patients, Dr. Gerber said, “this paper suggests that you’ve got to get into longer-term therapy to make improvements last.”

Some psychoanalysts were more surprised by where the paper appeared than by its results: most review papers in major medical journals have hundreds of studies to draw on, or certainly far more than 23. The new review is encouraging, they said, but also a reminder of how much more study needs to be done.

Dr. Barbara L. Milrod, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, who like Dr. Gerber is a clinical practitioner of psychodynamic therapy, said further research was crucial as a matter of survival for a valuable treatment.

“Let’s be real,” Dr. Milrod said. “Major medical centers have been shutting down psychodynamic training programs because there isn’t an adequate evidence base.”

* Original articlehere

September 22, 2008

Japanese man charged with dumping silicone girlfriend

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Breaking up is hard to do, and few know this better than a lifelike sex doll owner who Shizuoka police have charged with illegal dumping.

On August 21, the 60-year-old unemployed resident of Izu (Shizuoka prefecture) wrapped his 1.7-meter tall, 50-kilogram silicone girlfriend in a sleeping bag, drove to a remote wooded area, and dumped her. A nice, clean break, he thought.

But nearly two weeks later, on September 1, a couple alerted police after discovering what appeared to be a corpse while walking their dog. The body had been wrapped in a bag and bound around the neck, waist and ankles. A head of black hair protruded from one end of the bag.

Police retrieved the body and immediately launched a criminal investigation. But several hours later, when forensic pathologists began to unwrap the “corpse” to perform the post-mortem, they realized it was actually a state-of-the-art sex doll. Seeing themselves as victims of a malicious prank, the authorities vowed to track down the perpetrator and charge him with interfering with police business.

The incident quickly captured the attention of the national (and international) press. After seeing the news reports, the culprit realized the trouble he had caused and contacted police on September 6.

According to investigators, the man had lived with the sophisticated doll for several years after his wife passed away, but decided to part with her after making plans to move in with one of his children. “It seems he grew attached to the doll over the years,” said the chief investigator. “He was confused about how to get rid of her. He thought it would be cruel to cut her up into pieces and throw her out with the trash, so he proceeded to dump her illegally.”

The man, who regrets his lifelike doll was mistaken for a corpse, now faces fines for violating Japan’s Waste Management Law.

* Here it is in Japanese.

September 14, 2008

Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist By Richard Rhodes

I started this book a while ago but had to put it down while reading for school. The irony is that this book has significantly informed my studies of crime and violence. The work of criminologist Lonnie Athens is groundbreaking and convincing (you'll have to read the book to learn what his decades of studies reveal about violent offenders!). I'm certain the communication of this knowledge was greatly facilitated by the fantastically clear and engaging writing of Pulitzer Prize-winning Richard Rhodes. I think the best thing for an academic is to have a Richard Rhodes caliber writer tell the story of their work! Highly, highly recommended.

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August 12, 2008

In U.S., Expert Witnesses Are Partisan By Adam Liptak, NY Times

This article discusses what we often touched on in my psych & law class last semester: the role of expert witnesses.

Here are some highlights:

...Dr. Leonard Welsh, the psychologist who testified for the state, said he sometimes found his work compromising.

“After you come out of court,” Dr. Welsh said, “you feel like you need a shower. They’re asking you to be certain of things you can’t be certain of.” He might have preferred a new way of hearing expert testimony that Australian lawyers call hot tubbing.

In that procedure, also called concurrent evidence, experts are still chosen by the parties, but they testify together at trial — discussing the case, asking each other questions, responding to inquiries from the judge and the lawyers, finding common ground and sharpening the open issues. In the Wilkins case, by contrast, the two experts “did not exchange information,” the Court of Appeals for Iowa noted in its decision last year.

“Judges think that if we could just have a place in the adversarial trial that was a little less adversarial and a little more scientific, everything would be fine,” Professor Edmond said. “But science can be very acrimonious.”

Melvin Belli, the famed trial lawyer, endorsed this view. “If I got myself an impartial witness,” he once said, “I’d think I was wasting my money.”

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July 7, 2008

Case closed. Sort of. By Michelle Chen, NewsDay

What's so thrilling about an unsolved murder case? A lot, I say!

After about 20 years, the high-profile Martin Tankleff murder case has drawn to an end. Tankleff is a free man, no one else has been charged with the crime, yet he hasn't been fully exonerated by the state. End of story?

If you still feel unsettled, you're not the only one. To some, the overturning of his conviction is a just conclusion to the case; others read it as a twist in a bigger mystery.

Arie Kruglanski, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, has uncovered psychological underpinnings in the tension people feel over unsolved crimes and other disturbing uncertainties in life: it's all driven by a fundamental "need for closure."

A desire to have a clear conclusion to any story is natural, Kruglanski says. Whether you're anxiously turning the pages of a detective novel or mulling over the conspiracy theories that have kept the Kennedy assassination alive for decades.

To Sarah Weinman, a writer, critic and blogger specializing in crime fiction, the public fascination with the Tankleff case resonates with the magnetism of a good mystery novel. "As long as something is unresolved, there's still the potential for resolution. There's still suspense," she says. "Suspense is a very powerful, very provocative emotion or feeling."

But we vary in our desire for conclusiveness. "Some people, because of their temperament or because of the way they were brought up, find uncertainty more unpleasant than other people," says Kruglanski. That could play out in their social interactions and politics as well--in ways that society may view as positive or negative.

Continue reading...

Knowing who killed a loved one is justice by Philip Lerman, NewsDay

Marty Tenkleff is finally freed after being wrongfully convicted and locked up for 17 years. Here's an Op-Ed by Philip Lerman, former co-executive producer of "America's Most Wanted.

The last sound my parents heard was the glass smashing against the wall, and the slam of the front door.

My stepsister Jackie, in a schizophrenia-fueled rage, had picked up the nearest object and flung it across the room before running off again, as she had so many times before; most likely to hop the train into Manhattan, to hang out on the streets until she cooled down, or got hungry, or both, at which time she'd come back home.

Only this time, she never came back.

That was 30 years ago; her disappearance and, as we came to believe, her murder (although her body was never found), remain unsolved.

And so it was with very mixed feelings that I received the news this week that the district attorney will not retry Marty Tankleff for the murder of his parents. My friends in New York all feel very relieved - proud, even - that a miscarriage of justice has been righted (though some, like the detectives involved in the case, feel otherwise). There is a fragile sense of order that is shattered, like that glass against the wall, when we hear that an innocent man sits behind bars for 17 years. And while we can never give Tankleff back those years, we at least feel a sense of fairness, of order restored, when that awful wrong is undone.

Continue reading...

July 1, 2008

The Pitfalls of Perfectionism by Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today

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So true!

Perfectionism seeps into the psyche and creates a pervasive personality style. It keeps people from engaging in challenging experiences; they don't get to discover what they truly like or to create their own identities. Perfectionism reduces playfulness and the assimilation of knowledge; if you're always focused on your own performance and on defending yourself, you can't focus on learning a task. Here's the cosmic thigh-slapper: Because it lowers the ability to take risks, perfectionism reduces creativity and innovation--exactly what's not adaptive in the global marketplace.

Yet, it does more. It is a steady source of negative emotions; rather than reaching toward something positive, those in its grip are focused on the very thing they most want to avoid--negative evaluation. Perfectionism, then, is an endless report card; it keeps people completely self-absorbed, engaged in perpetual self-evaluation--reaping relentless frustration and doomed to anxiety and depression.

June 20, 2008

Campus Crime Club funded by the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute: I think a certain club forgot to send me an invitation!!!!

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If you're looking for a way to nosedive into despair, try reading this story.

Boy's suffering leads to official soul-searching.

May 13, 2008

Dressed for a Meeting, Ready for Mayhem by Christine Hauser, NY Times

I love this article for combining detectives and fashion - what more could a girl want??! Also, it makes clear what many people seem to have forgotten - that what you wear is what you convey to the world that you are! Remember when Juicy Couture sweat suits didn't exist??!! Those were the days. I practically gouge out my eyeballs every time I see one.

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From his precinct on the fringes of Hell’s Kitchen, Detective Kevin P. Schroeder has cracked the case of a corpse in a Dumpster, wrestled a man into handcuffs on the sidewalk, and chased suspects across rooftops and down fire escapes.

When he prepares for a day at work, he puts his handgun in a holster, clips his cellphone and radio on his belt, and tucks handcuffs into his waistband, letting one of the cuffs dangle outside where he can easily grab it.

And then, in a well-worn tradition that has endured for more than a century, Detective Schroeder adds one more crucial piece of gear. He puts on a tailored suit jacket that has been cut with extra material around the waist.

That way, there are no unsightly bulges from gun and gear.

“I like room in it because of my pistol, my handcuffs, my radio,” Detective Schroeder said. “You want it a little bigger than you normally would get.”

“I try to wear my less expensive suits if I am going out to track a bad guy,” he added. Continue reading...

May 12, 2008

Why Your Future Self is an Emotional Mystery: The Projection Bias

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Going to the supermarket when I'm really hungry, and without a shopping list, is a recipe for disaster. It will take an act of iron will to avoid returning without some kind of junk food. Later, after eating, I'll wonder how I could have bought junk food but forgotten healthy staples like rice and pasta.

Why should this be? After all, I know very well what sort of food I should buy; I've been hungry in the supermarket before and bought junk food and regretted it later. The reason is that in the moment, when I'm hungry at the supermarket, I'm out of touch with my future emotional self - something that psychologists have confirmed experimentally. Continue reading.

May 5, 2008

Exercise Your Brain, or Else You’ll ... Uh ...by Katie Hafner, NY TImes

I am both a firm believer in the preventative medicine power of exercise (both in terms of physical and mental health) and a total sucker for these "keep your brain sharp" products. I figure there are worse things I could spend my money on...until I can't remember what I spent all my life savings on!

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SAN FRANCISCO — When David Bunnell, a magazine publisher who lives in Berkeley, Calif., went to a FedEx store to send a package a few years ago, he suddenly drew a blank as he was filling out the forms.

“I couldn’t remember my address,” said Mr. Bunnell, 60, with a measure of horror in his voice. “I knew where I lived, and I knew how to get there, but I didn’t know what the address was.”

Mr. Bunnell is among tens of millions of baby boomers who are encountering the signs, by turns amusing and disconcerting, that accompany the decline of the brain’s acuity: a good friend’s name suddenly vanishing from memory; a frantic search for eyeglasses only to find them atop the head; milk taken from the refrigerator then put away in a cupboard.

“It’s probably one of the most frightening aspects of the changes we undergo as we age,” said Nancy Ceridwyn, director of educational initiatives at the American Society on Aging. “Our memories are who we are. And if we lose our memories we lose that groundedness of who we are.”

At the same time, boomers are seizing on a mounting body of evidence that suggests that brains contain more plasticity than previously thought, and many people are taking matters into their own hands, doing brain fitness exercises with the same intensity with which they attack a treadmill.

Decaying brains, or the fear thereof, have inspired a mini-industry of brain health products — not just supplements like coenzyme Q10, ginseng and bacopa, but computer-based fitter-brain products as well. Continue reading...

May 1, 2008

Disturbing video: 7 year-old kid ripe for Conduct Disorder

From the media's take to the kid's dangerous cluelessness to his grandmother's candor, there are so many "things that make you go hmmmm" in this clip:

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April 29, 2008

Austria Stunned by Case of Imprisoned Woman by Mark Landler, NY Times

Some things, such as this story, are too horrific to truly comprehend.

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AMSTETTEN, Austria — With his Mercedes-Benz and his fine clothes, Josef Fritzl looked every inch a property owner, neighbors in this tidy Austrian town said Monday. Even when running errands, they said, he wore a natty jacket, crisp shirt and tie.

Mr. Fritzl’s apartment house, its back garden obscured by a tall hedge, was his kingdom, one neighbor said, and interlopers were not welcome. On Monday, investigators in white jumpsuits combed the house and garden for clues. The authorities said Sunday that Mr. Fritzl, 73, had kept one of his daughters imprisoned for 24 years in a basement dungeon, where she bore him seven children.

The daughter, Elisabeth, now 42, is in psychiatric care, along with two of her children. Her eldest daughter, Kerstin, 19, who was also kept in the basement and whose illness pulled apart Mr. Fritzl’s secret after he had her taken to a local hospital, was in a medically induced coma and was in critical condition, the authorities said.

The authorities said Mr. Fritzl confessed Monday to imprisonment, sexual abuse and incest. The case has left this town of 22,000 people, 80 miles west of Vienna, in stunned disbelief. Neighbors milled around the three-story apartment building on Monday, watching the investigation unfold and asking how such an atrocity could have occurred in their midst. Continued...

April 17, 2008

I am in FBI workshops all day today and tomorrow!

So far this seminar has been incredibly illuminating and engrossing! I want to be a forensic interviewer of children!

Forensic Interviewing of Children, Adolescents, and Adults
Sponsored by: The FBI New York Office Victim Assistance Program

Thursday, April 17, 2008

8:30 am - 8:45 am Sign In
8:45 am - 9:00 am Opening Remarks
9:00 am - 10:30 am Forensic Interviewing of Children and Adolescents,
Martha Finnegan, MSW, LCSW, Child Interview Specialist & Catherine S. Connell, MSW, ACSW, Child Interview Specialist
10:30 am - 10:45 am Break
10:45 am - 12:15 pm Martha Finnegan, MSW, LCSW, Child Interview Specialist & Catherine S. Connell, MSW, ACSW, Child Interview Specialist
12:15 pm - 1:15 pm Lunch (on your own)
1:15 pm - 3:15 pm Martha Finnegan, MSW, LCSW, Child Interview Specialist & Catherine S. Connell, MSW, ACSW, Child Interview Specialist
3:15 pm - 3:30 pm Break
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm Touring the Home of the Internet Child Pornography Pedophile, Special Agent Timothy Wittman
4:30 pm - 4:40 pm Interviewing Infants & Talking with Toddlers: Assessing Safety and Risk for Children Ages 0 - 3, Selina Higgins, LCSW-R, MSW, MA

Friday, April 18, 2008

8:30 am - 9:00 am Sign In
9:00 am - 10:30 am The Sexually Exploited Youth: Redefining Victimization,
Sharon Cooper, MD
10:30 am - 10:45 am Break
10:45 am - 12:15 pm Sharon Cooper, MD
12:15 pm - 1:15 pm Lunch (on your own)
1:15 pm - 2:45 pm Interviewing Parents and Other Adults Suspected
of Sexual Abuse of a Child
, David Mantell, Ph.D
2:45 pm - 3:00 pm Break
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm David Mantell, Ph.D

April 9, 2008

Is There No Place on Earth for Me? by Susan Sheehan

Over 20 years ago this book deservedly won the Pulitzer. What's unfortunate is that the experiences detailed in the book remain true to this day. Namely, schizophrenics try to find effective and affordable help, yet a solution remains painfully elusive and instead, they go in and out of the "revolving doors" of the mental health system. Former New Yorker writer Sheehan writes engagingly and with an investigators keen eye (my favorite combo!). It reads like one of those engrossing New Yorker profiles except it doesn't end as quickly! I couldn't recommend this book more.

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March 20, 2008

Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas

This book is so enjoyable. It's packed full of the lessons this innovater learned while building the first behavioral sciences/criminal profiling unit in the world. Jonah commented that of course I am reading a book about serial killers as a break from studying for my forensic psychology midterms and that I do this before going to bed. Obsessed with all things forensic psychology and disturbed enough to upload it into my brain as I fall asleep. That's me in a (nutty) nutshell!

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March 17, 2008

Psych & Law midterm in an hour

Wish me luck. And if you are interested check out the following:

Frye standard
Daubert and Federal Rules of Evidence
Dusky test
Civil commitment
Jackson v Indiana
Riggins v Nevada
M'Naghten test
NGRI
GBMI

March 10, 2008

Brain Enhancement is Wrong, Right? by Benedict Carey, NY Times

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* Thanks to Lily for pointing out this article!

February 21, 2008

One Hand Jason: An Interview with a Body Integrity Disorder Dude

Thanks to Jason (not to be confused with One Hand Jason) for knowing that this interview would be right up my (sick & twisted) alley!

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February 1, 2008

It's nice to see a young star recover!

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I couldn't agree with this review of HBO's In Treatment more.

And I only read the first few paragraphs.

Patients, Patients: HBO, on the couch again by Nancy Franklin.
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January 30, 2008

Looking Anew At Campaign Cash And Elected Judges by Adam Liptak, NYTimes

Loved this article and the research question asked. The judges will surely squirm, at the very least, when the full article is published next month in the Tulane Law Review!

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What "Psychopath" Means: It is not quite what you may think by Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz

For those of you curious about what I've been learning at school, this is a cursory but good summary of psychopathy.

* via Scientific American Mind.

January 28, 2008

Left Brains vs. Right Brains: Political ideology is tied to how the brain manages conflict by Siri Carpenter

People who describe themselves as being politically liberal can better suppress a habitual response when faced with situations in which that response is incorrect, according to research that used a simple cognitive test to compare liberal and conservative thinkers. Tasks that require such “conflict monitoring” also triggered more activity in the liberals’ anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region geared to detect and respond to conflicting information.

Past research has shown that liberals and conservatives exhibit differing cognitive styles, with liberals being more tolerant of ambiguity and conservatives preferring more structure. The new paper “is exciting because it suggests a specific mechanism” for that pattern, com­ments psychologist Wil Cunningham of Ohio State University, who was not involved with the study. In the experiment, subjects saw a series of letters flash quickly on a screen and were told to press a button when they saw M, but not W. Because M appeared about 80 percent of the time, hitting the button became a reflex—and the more liberal-minded volunteers were better able to avoid the knee-jerk reaction.

The study’s lead author, psychologist David Amodio of New York University, emphasizes that the findings do not mean that political views are predetermined. “There are a lot of steps be­tween conflict monitoring and political ideology, and we don’t know what those steps are,” he says. Although the neurocognitive process his group measured is so basic that it is most likely in place in early childhood, he notes that “the whole brain is very malleable.” Social relation­ships and other environmental factors also shape one’s political leanings.

* via Scientific American Mind January/February 08

January 25, 2008

How to Be Happy, Confucian Style

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* via PsyBlog.

January 16, 2008

Scientology: The cult of greed by Richard Behar, Time Magazine 1991!

Ruined lives. Lost fortunes. Federal crimes. Scientology poses as a religion but really is a ruthless global scam -- and aiming for the mainstream.

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The Scandal of the Scandal of Scientology by Paulette Cooper, Operation Clambake

Incredible story.

The book the Scientologists tried to stop: The Scandal of Scientology.

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Diana author names Tom Cruise as 'World Number Two in Scientology' by James Tapper, Daily Mail

From this article are some snippets - the first of which is my favorite idea in a long time and crossing my fingers it's true!!

Of the bizarre beliefs Morton ascribes to some Scientologists about Cruise's third wife, Katie Holmes, whom the actor married in a whirlwind romance, the author says, incredibly: "Some Sea Org fanatics even wondered if the actress had been impregnated with Hubbard's frozen sperm.

Morton claims Scientologists were worried that Kidman might be a problem because her father was a psychologist - "which automatically made her a Potential Trouble Source" - and she had given an interview emphasising her roots as a Catholic. "The fear was that a lukewarm Nicole could fatally compromise Tom's commitment to his faith," Morton writes. "Somehow Tom had to be inoculated against the virus of doubt. "The surefire cure for scepticism was the Potential Trouble Source/ Suppressive Person course, which reinforced wavering Scientologists' loyalty while making them more suspicious of those around them who were not members of the faith."

Morton recounts allegations that "auditing" focuses on the subject's sex life. He quotes Hubbard's son, Ronald De Wolf, who fell out with his father, giving a Playboy interview: "You have complete control of someone if you have every detail of his sex life and fantasy life on record. In Scientology the focus is on sex. Sex, sex, sex. "The first thing we wanted to know about someone we were auditing was his sexual deviations. All you've got to do is find a person's kinks, whatever they might be. "Their dreams and their fantasies. Then you can fit a ring through their noses and take them anywhere. You promise to fulfill their fantasies or you threaten to expose them."

* Thanks to Chelsea for the link!

Three Defenders of Scientology

WOW. It's plain to see how the Church of Scientology has become so powerful - congrats, guys! It's brainwashed their followers into being suspicious of and antagonistic towards any non-believers. Their identities seem to be rooted in singling out dissenters who could only be such SPs (Suppressive Person - thanks, L. Ron) because they must be hiding some deep dark secret! Plus, they relentlessly spew rhetoric of how they are about positivity when all the while they are acting negatively - brilliant! Here's a depressing thought for you: Think of alllllll the money the Church of Scientology has and how it's not being spent on things like education and health care.

Definition of Enturbulate.

December 14, 2007

10 Weird Psychology Studies: Vote Now For Your Favourite!

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Psychologists are skilled at inventing unusual tests of human thought and behaviour, but some research is pretty weird. Over the past few months I've been examining some of the weirdest studies around. There's research into psychic dogs, invasions from Mars, the antidepressant properties of semen, pigeon-guided missiles and men's urination.

Have a read and then vote below for the study to be crowned PsyBlog's official 'weirdest' study. Continue reading...

December 6, 2007

Unhappy? Self-Critical? Maybe You’re Just a Perfectionist, by Benedict Carey, NY Times

I have my very own definition of perfectionism you may like: Self-abuse. Plain and simple, it's an awful affliction and I am working towards rehabilitation!

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Just about any sports movie, airport paperback or motivational tape delivers a few boilerplate rules for success. Believe in yourself. Don’t take no for an answer. Never quit. Don’t accept second best.

Above all, be true to yourself.

It’s hard to argue with those maxims. They seem self-evident — if not written into the Constitution, then at least part of the cultural water supply that irrigates everything from halftime speeches to corporate lectures to SAT coaching classes.

Yet several recent studies stand as a warning against taking the platitudes of achievement too seriously. The new research focuses on a familiar type, perfectionists, who panic or blow a fuse when things don’t turn out just so. The findings not only confirm that such purists are often at risk for mental distress — as Freud, Alfred Adler and countless exasperated parents have long predicted — but also suggest that perfectionism is a valuable lens through which to understand a variety of seemingly unrelated mental difficulties, from depression to compulsive behavior to addiction.

Some researchers divide perfectionists into three types, based on answers to standardized questionnaires: Self-oriented strivers who struggle to live up to their high standards and appear to be at risk of self-critical depression; outwardly focused zealots who expect perfection from others, often ruining relationships; and those desperate to live up to an ideal they’re convinced others expect of them, a risk factor for suicidal thinking and eating disorders.

“It’s natural for people to want to be perfect in a few things, say in their job — being a good editor or surgeon depends on not making mistakes,” said Gordon L. Flett, a psychology professor at York University and an author of many of the studies. “It’s when it generalizes to other areas of life, home life, appearance, hobbies, that you begin to see real problems.” Continue reading...

November 16, 2007

Why We do Dumb or Irrational Things: 10 Brilliant Social Psychology Studies

I LOVE social psychology. If I could I would marry it. Check out these groundbreaking studies. I just finished reading over a hundred pages on cognitive dissonance and it really resonated. I find myself thinking about this idea a lot as it helps to explain lots of human behavior inconsistencies!

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* Thanks for the tip, Kottke!

November 12, 2007

Dangerous Minds: Criminal profiling made easy by Malcolm Gladwell

Interesting article on criminal profiling and how unreliable it is. Reminds me of the first day of my Criminal Behavior class when Professor Kirschner said firmly, "this is not a profiling case. If you've watched Silence of the Lambs and now want to be a profiler, become a cop. Cops are the best profilers." The best part of the article in my opinion, comes at the end when he compares profiling techniques to those used by magicians, psychics and other swindlers.

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October 19, 2007

Does Your Soul Have a Cold? by Mike Mills

I am so excited to see this film (psychology and Japan - what more could I ask for?!) which will air on IFC on Monday October 22 (thanks for the tip KO!) It is a documentary on Japan and the recent upsurge of anti-depressant use and tells its story through the eyes of five Japanese people taking anti-depressants (not surprisingly but certainly sadly only two out of five are concurrently doing therapy). Check out the following trailer and if it seems interesting, come by on Monday and we'll snuggle on our new humongous couch (thanks Duncan!)

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October 12, 2007

False Confessions by Saul Kassin, John Jay School of Criminal Justice '07

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This was a fantastic talk. I mean, why on earth would an innocent person confess to a crime he/she didn't commit??!! For as long as I can remember I've been reading about this stuff so I knew about The Innocence Project (only reason I ever wanted to go to law school was to work for them!) and the frightening number of people they've successfully exonerated thanks to DNA (keep in mind that if and only if the crime you were falsely convicted of still has intact, testable DNA, often after decades, could you even harbor the remote possibility of being exonerated). What I didn't know continues to shock me to this day. Did you know that interrogators are legally allowed to present false information to a suspect in order to secure a confession????????!!!!!!!!! Here's an example from the well-publicized case of Marty Tankleff. Marty was 17, 17 years ago and awoke in his house to discover his mother and father lying in pools of blood. Right away he was nabbed the prime suspect even though there was another person who was glaringly obvious as the real prime suspect but we won't visit that aspect here. His mother was pronounced dead on the scene and his father who was barely still alive was rushed to the hospital. Marty was interrogated using the standard physical and psychological deprivation techniques I'm sure you all know just from watching Law & Order but basically you're deprived of any physical and psychological comforts like extra clothing, jewelry or belongings, you are stripped to your basic necessities, have no visible phone as a reminder of contact to the outside world and you are only given minimal water, food and bathroom privileges. On top of this, imagine Marty having just learned that his mom is dead and his dad is near death. After hours of unsuccessfully trying to get Marty to confess, one of the detectives, likely the bad cop in the routine (Mutt & Jeff routine is what we call it in grad school), left the room supposedly to take a call and upon returning tells Marty that his father has emerged from his coma and has named Marty as the murderer. Marty fell apart and thought if his own Dad said he did it, he must have done it and not remembered it. The "good cop" then wrote up a confession for Marty to sign but when it came time to sign it, he came to and refused. Nevertheless the harm had been done and Marty is on record as partially confessing. To this day, the "good cop" who was present when the "bad cop" came in with news from the hospital, says that what he heard about Marty's dad seemed so real he even believed it at the time and only found out later it was a lie. Marty's dad never awoke from his coma and died two weeks later. Still, the partial confession, garnered out of a straight up, bold-faced LIE, still stands and the Innocence Project is fighting to free Marty who has already done 17 years for a crime he didn't commit. There are numerous examples like this one that highlight the deeply disturbing fact that it is entirely legal to lie in order to gain a confession from a suspect. And of course while lies are being used to gain false confessions, real murderers remain free.

October 11, 2007

SuccessTech School Shooting/Irony Kills

What is this country coming to??!! What is happening to our children??!! Meanwhile, this is the school's homepage:

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For consolidated info click here.

September 26, 2007

Kitty, 40 Years Later by Jim Rasenberger, NY Times

Part of last week's reading assignment for my Social Psychology & The Legal System class is this article about the infamous Kitty Genovese murder over 40 years ago in Queens during which there were supposedly more than 30 witnesses, none of which stopped the crime.

Kew Gardens does not look much like the setting of an urban horror story. Nestled along the tracks of the Long Island Rail Road, 16 minutes by train from Pennsylvania Station, the Queens neighborhood is quiet and well kept, its streets shaded by tall oaks and bordered by handsome red-brick and wood-frame houses. At first glance, the surroundings appear as remote from big-city clamor as a far-flung Westchester suburb.

Forty years ago, on March 13, 1964, the picturesque tranquillity of Kew Gardens was shattered by the murder of 28-year-old Catherine Genovese, known as Kitty. The murder was grisly, but it wasn't the particulars of the killing that became the focus of the case. It was the response of her neighbors. As Ms. Genovese screamed -- ''Please help me! Please help me!'' -- 38 witnesses did nothing to intervene, according to reports; nobody even bothered to call the police. One witness later explained himself with a phrase that has passed into infamy: ''I didn't want to get involved.''continued...

* Thanks to the New York Times for opening up their archives!!

September 10, 2007

In Polygamy Country, Old Divisions Are Fading by Kirk Johnson, NY Times

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Nothing makes me wish I were a fly on the wall more than some good old fashioned polygamy.

Amber Clark, 28, an Army veteran who moved here from California about two months ago and who described herself as an active Mormon, said she thought polygamists should be left alone, so long as no one was under age or coerced into marriage.

“I’m liberal in that respect,” Ms. Clark said. “If it’s legal in some states for people of the same sex to get married, why is it not legal to marry more than one wife?” continued...

August 30, 2007

Kirschner's Criminal Behavior class: Interesting question posed on first day

And the answer is...155!! Isn't that shocking?? And of those, 41 won. Thanks for playing!!

Between 1988 and 1997 there were roughly 96,000 felony indictments in New York so on average, just under 10,000 per year during this 10 year span. Of the 96,000 cases, how many defendants entered a not guilty plea by reason of insanity or diminished capacity? They don't need to have won the case. Simply, of the 96,000 homicide cases tried in New York, how many of these pleas were entered during this time?

Let me know what you think and I'll post the answer. Then, I'll tell you of those cases, how many won!

August 23, 2007

Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story by Chris Sheridan & Patty Kim

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Jonah and I went to the screening of this film last night thanks to New York - Tokyo. It is a very good film and a tremendously tragic story. If you don't know about the Japanese families who lives were shattered by North Korea's abduction of their children, you must see this film. This film pays just enough attention to the big picture and all the families affected without straying from the main story which is the kidnapping of Megumi Yokota, a 13 year old girl from Niigata, Japan and her parents' continued search for her. The DVD is due out in September and hopefully the film will make it to the big screen here and receive the rave reviews its enjoyed internationally. In the meantime here's a trailer.

A few highlights [warning - spoilers below]:

- Former Prime Minister Koizumi does the right thing by withholding food and medical aid to North Korea for the acknowledgment and subsequent return of (some of) the victims they kidnapped. However he then appears less honorable when he faces the weeping father of Megumi and explains that while the abduction issue is an important one so is that of nuclear weapons. 'Abduction issue' is such dispassionate wording! I can't even begin to imagine how incredibly difficult being a politician must be.

- The sponsor of the film screening, ANA (All Nippon Airways), was also the airline that flew home five of the 13 abductees. After the film and before the Q&A session with the film directors, an ANA representative told us that his boss was on the flight with the returning abductees. His boss offered one of the abductees a cigarettes which happened to be the very popular Japanese brand Mild Seven. The abductee politely declined saying that he could only smoke cigarettes of his country - meaning North Korea. Keep in mind that this is a Japanese guy who was abducted from Japan in his twenties. More and more I believe the disturbing notion that most people can be brainwashed without too much trouble.

- According to witnesses, Megumi arrived in North Korea after a 40 hour boat ride, without fingernails. She never ceased crying for her mother nor scratching at the iron door of the tiny compartment she was locked in.

For up to date information click here.

August 21, 2007

To Reap Psychotherapy’s Benefits, Get a Good Fit by Richard A. Friedman, M.D., NY Times

I've always been ambivalent about psychotherapy's efficacy. This article emphasizes a good fit which is of course important but I wonder about situations in which patients choose therapists that merely indulge them? For example I know of narcissists who (consciously or unconsciously) see therapists who feed their narcissism and simply make them feel good about themselves? I suppose there will always be outliers but interesting (to me) nonetheless to think about.

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August 20, 2007

Conspiracy of Two by David Amsden, NY Mag

Still as intriguing as ever, here's New York Magazine's take.

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Study Suggests That a Need for Physical Perfection May Reveal Emotional Flaws by Natasha Singer, NY Times

Well of course it does! This is my favorite kind of science - that which supports what I intuitively know!

In the first season of the television drama “Nip/Tuck,” two plastic surgeons named Dr. Sean McNamara and Dr. Christian Troy hire a staff psychologist to determine whether their patients are psychologically equipped to handle cosmetic procedures. In one episode, the psychologist denies treatment to a severely depressed patient who later commits suicide.

In real life, although plastic surgeons sometimes refer patients for counseling, they typically do not have a psychologist on staff. But new research may prompt doctors to consider it. Continued...

August 8, 2007

Staircase to Nowhere, LAist

Interesting comments and post.

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August 6, 2007

The Theresa Duncan Tragedy by Kate Coe, LA Weekly News

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The most revealing article thus far which paints not such a nice picture of Theresa but feels like a more whole picture than has been reported thus far. Interesting quotes, the first of which makes one suspect mental illness in the family:

“She claimed [her father] had serious mental-health problems and was notorious around town for doing bizarre things,” recalls Gesue.

“She was losing her grip on reality, and Jeremy was so devoted to her that he would go along with it . . . It became impossible to ignore, and so my [girlfriend] and I began to extricate ourselves.”

Art dealer and gallery owner Christine Nichols, who had known the couple for years, told the Weekly that Duncan sometimes found it hard to see Blake working with anyone but her. Their relationship was so intertwined, Nichols says, “You were either in complete agreement with everything they said or you were an enemy.”

Theresa Duncan & Jeremy Blake suicides theory

Jeremy, having met Theresa when he was only 23 (she was 28 at the time - note the emotionally significant ages and the vast difference in maturity between them) embodied the younger man looking up to the older woman dynamic. Theresa's career was firmly established and on the rise. Undoubtedly she taught him, supported him and was a crucial ingredient to Jeremy's success. Over the years however while Jeremy's career took off, Theresa's was flailing and she increasingly lost touch with reality as she saw conspiracies as reasons for her failed projects . Her despair and fears permeated Jeremy the way any close couple shares their pain but this situation was insidious because her mental problems went largely unchecked because she was an artist and a writer and they say and do wacky things and it's extremely difficult for people on the outside to know when there's a real problem. In this atmosphere Jeremy was the younger guy taking the lead from his older woman - whatever she said portrayed as reality was his reality. Their paranoia became a self-fulfilling prophecy - the more skeptical friends and family grew of their accusations, the more they felt misunderstood and even attacked by their surroundings and reinforced the belief that they could only trust each other. Jeremy's mother is quoted saying Jeremy was a loyal caretaker - how incredibly apt. That statement plus Jeremy, seemingly out of left field, accusing a colleague of trying to ruin Theresa's reputation all point to him as an impressionable guy so wrapped up in Theresa's perspective it became his and he was doing all that he could to protect her and ultimately them. He wasn't able to step out of the dynamic and see things differently than she did. In terms of his art and whether he was able to conceive of going on in life without her, she was his one worthwhile audience member and critic. His critique of the art world was growing as was her/their paranoia and the two of them became sealed as each others trustworthy muse and critic. In the end he couldn't go on without either. To the core, Jeremy was influenced by Theresa and until the end lived and died by her perspective. As his suicide note simply says, he wanted to be reunited with her. After all, the only adult life he knew was with her and in the last few years of their lives, insulating and endangering themselves in the 'us against them' cocoon they built.

The Puzzling, Tragic End of a Golden Couple by David Segal, Washington Post

Another article with a little more info.

July 17, 2007

Gay Marais, Paris '07

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July 16, 2007

Best psychology magazine: Scientific American Mind

My search for a good psychology magazine to subscribe to was surprisingly difficult. I quickly realized there is a dearth of mainstream psych mags. Of the slim pickings Psychology Today was hugely disappointing and highly irritating. Thank goodness I then discovered Scientific American Mind which I love and highly recommend!

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July 10, 2007

CDC: Antidepressants most prescribed drugs in U.S.

It's great when people truly in need of antidepressants take them but I have a sneaking suspicion that many people are simply too emotionally lazy to do the necessary hard work of examining and changing their lives. I also think American society is to blame given that it's f-%^ed in so many ways - Americans eat disgusting, harmful crap for food, It would behoove us as a society to think a little more from the 'we' perspective than the 'I', don't you think?! How about a crazy little thing called universal health care?? Of all doctors psychiatrists take the most money from drug companies? Sweet! - it's not surprising that so many people want to numb themselves.

Dr. Ronald Dworkin tells the story of a woman who didn't like the way her husband was handling the family finances. She wanted to start keeping the books herself but didn't want to insult her husband.

The doctor suggested she try an antidepressant to make herself feel better.

She got the antidepressant, and she did feel better, said Dr. Dworkin, a Maryland anesthesiologist and senior fellow at Washington's Hudson Institute, who told the story in his book "Artificial Unhappiness: The Dark Side of the New Happy Class." But in the meantime, Dworkin says, the woman's husband led the family into financial ruin.

"Doctors are now medicating unhappiness," said Dworkin. "Too many people take drugs when they really need to be making changes in their lives." continue reading...

July 9, 2007

Psychiatrists Top List in Drug Maker Gifts

This is disturbing to say the least.

July 3, 2007

Hans Reiser: Once a Linux Visionary, Now Accused of Murder by Joshua Davis

Q: Computer programmer or murderer?
A: Both!

Both?!! Perhaps...

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June 6, 2007

The Disorder Is Sensory; the Diagnosis, Elusive by Benedict Carey

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Almost every parent of young children has heard an anguished cry or two (or 200) something like: “This shirt is scratchy, this shirt is scratchy, get it off!” “This oatmeal smells like poison, it’s poisonous!” “My feet are hot, my feet are hot, my feet are boiling!”

Such bizarre, seemingly overblown reactions to everyday sensations can end in tears, parents know, or escalate into the sort of tantrum that brings neighbors to the door asking whether everything’s all right.

Usually, it is. The world for young children is still raw, an acid bath of strange sights, smells and sounds, and it can take time to get used to it.

Yet for decades some therapists have argued that there are youngsters who do not adjust at all, or at least not normally. They remain oversensitive, continually recoiling from the world, or undersensitive, banging into things, duck-walking through the day as if not entirely aware of their surroundings.

The problem, these therapists say, is in the brain, which is not properly integrating the onslaught of information coming through the senses, often causing anxiety, tantrums and problems in the classroom. Such difficulties, while common in children with developmental disorders like autism, also occur on their own in many otherwise healthy youngsters, they say.

No one has a standard diagnostic test for these sensory integration problems, nor any idea of what might be happening in the brain. Indeed, a diagnosis of such problems is not yet generally accepted. Nor is there evidence to guide treatment, which makes many doctors, if they have heard of sensory problems at all, skeptical of the diagnosis.

Yet in some urban and suburban school districts across the county, talk of sensory integration has become part of the special-needs vernacular, along with attention deficit disorder and developmental delays. Though reliable figures for diagnosis rates are not available, the number of parent groups devoted to sensory problems has more than tripled in the last few years, to 55 nationwide.

And now this subculture wants membership in mainstream medicine. This year, for the first time, therapists and researchers petitioned the American Psychiatric Association to include “sensory processing disorder” in its influential guidebook of disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Official recognition would bring desperately needed research, they say, as well as more complete coverage for treatment, which can run to more than $10,000 a year. Continued...

June 4, 2007

Justice: Crimes, Trials, and Punishments by Dominick Dunne

This book was enjoyable the way a three star movie is enjoyable. I love the topic and generally speaking I believe Dunne is pretty right on with his opinions and hunches however his thought process seems overly simplistic to me. I would prefer that "true crime" books be guided by sociological insight as provided by Lefkowitz in Our Guys or a psychological perspective as Carrere explored in The Adversary. I like some scientific thought to anchor the process of thinking about crime. It was fun however to reminisce about the "great" crimes of the 90s such as the Menendez brothers and of course OJ (still makes me rant and rave that he was acquitted) and if I were stranded on a desert island for a day I would be happy to have only this book...but when the rescue plane came I would surely talk the pilot's ear off about how the book isn't as thoughtful as I would have liked.

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May 24, 2007

This is your life (and how you tell it) by Benedict Carey

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Some excerpts:

YouTube routines notwithstanding, most people do not begin to see themselves in the midst of a tale with a beginning, middle and eventual end until they are teenagers. “Younger kids see themselves in terms of broad, stable traits: ‘I like baseball but not soccer,’ ” said Kate McLean, a psychologist at the University of Toronto in Mississauga. “This meaning-making capability — to talk about growth, to explain what something says about who I am — develops across adolescence.”

At some level, talk therapy has always been an exercise in replaying and reinterpreting each person’s unique life story. Yet Mr. Adler found that in fact those former patients who scored highest on measures of well-being — who had recovered, by standard measures — told very similar tales about their experiences. They described their problem, whether depression or an eating disorder, as coming on suddenly, as if out of nowhere. They characterized their difficulty as if it were an outside enemy, often giving it a name (the black dog, the walk of shame). And eventually they conquered it. “The story is one of victorious battle: ‘I ended therapy because I could overcome this on my own,’ ” Mr. Adler said. Those in the study who scored lower on measures of psychological well-being were more likely to see their moods and behavior problems as a part of their own character, rather than as a villain to be defeated. To them, therapy was part of a continuing adaptation, not a decisive battle. The findings suggest that psychotherapy, when it is effective, gives people who are feeling helpless a sense of their own power, in effect altering their life story even as they work to disarm their own demons, Mr. Adler said.

Psychologists have shown just how interpretations of memories can alter future behavior. In an experiment published in 2005, researchers had college students who described themselves as socially awkward in high school recall one of their most embarrassing moments. Half of the students reimagined the humiliation in the first person, and the other half pictured it in the third person. Two clear differences emerged. Those who replayed the scene in the third person rated themselves as having changed significantly since high school — much more so than the first-person group did. The third-person perspective allowed people to reflect on the meaning of their social miscues, the authors suggest, and thus to perceive more psychological growth. And their behavior changed, too. After completing the psychological questionnaires, each study participant spent time in a waiting room with another student, someone the research subject thought was taking part in the study. In fact the person was working for the research team, and secretly recorded the conversation between the pair, if any. This double agent had no idea which study participants had just relived a high school horror, and which had viewed theirs as a movie scene. The recordings showed that members of the third-person group were much more sociable than the others. “They were more likely to initiate a conversation, after having perceived themselves as more changed,” said Lisa Libby, the lead author and a psychologist at Ohio State University. She added, “We think that feeling you have changed frees you up to behave as if you have; you think, ‘Wow, I’ve really made some progress’ and it gives you some real momentum.”continued...

May 14, 2007

A Death in Belmont by Sebastien Junger

Finished this book last week by a fellow Wesleyan alum and while I am glad to have read it I can't help but agree with an Amazon reviewer that the book could have used more editing. Something about the tone and pace wasn't quite right. Nevertheless I enjoyed learning about the times and places surrounding the Boston Strangler cases, Roy Smith who may or may not have been wrongly convicted of a Boston Strangler crime and Al DeSalvo a convicted rapist who insisted he was the Boston Strangler but was never tried for those crimes. Did you know that as the jury finished hearing the judge's instructions and was released to begin deliberations on the guilt of Roy Smith they were told that JFK has just been shot and killed? Just a little intense!

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May 10, 2007

Psychiatrists, Children and Drug Industry’s Role by Harris, Carey & Roberts

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This reality is so disturbing. We are so obsessed with the quick-fix (drugs) and our children suffer for it.

When Anya Bailey developed an eating disorder after her 12th birthday, her mother took her to a psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota who prescribed a powerful antipsychotic drug called Risperdal.

Created for schizophrenia, Risperdal is not approved to treat eating disorders, but increased appetite is a common side effect and doctors may prescribe drugs as they see fit. Anya gained weight but within two years developed a crippling knot in her back. She now receives regular injections of Botox to unclench her back muscles. She often awakens crying in pain. continued...

April 19, 2007

Virginia Tech Aftermath: Did Legal Drugs Play a Role in the Massacre? by Arianna Huffington

Arianna raises an important question I really want answers to.

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April 18, 2007

Seductive Poison by Deborah Layton

Seductive Poison is a must-read. It's a first-hand account of a former People's Temple member and Jonestown survivor. The most interesting aspect of this tale is the rise of this church/socialist group as a byproduct of the times. For most of the members, the organization's lure was its stated commitment to eradicating racism, sexism, classism, but most emphasis was on the shameful racism of that time. Consequently the majority of membership were black Americans and the group was able to enjoy some political protection. Its pretty clear that the same message now would not carry the same weight and therefore the time capsule quality of the group is historically fascinating. Other aspects of the book cover the socialist camp and Jim Jones, the deluded, paranoid, tyrannical, megalomaniac leader and these are less gripping only because they are traits and tactics employed by every other despot who has blighted our history. Since no one knowingly joins a cult but cults continue to exist and proliferate today, what was most salient to me was the realization that it's almost too easy to conduct such horrific social experiments (Zimbardo!). In addition to the blatant tragedy of 1000 people getting murdered, is the countless families destroyed for the false promise of a larger, better family.

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April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech Shooting: Gunman's Writings were Disturbing

Excerpts from most recent information about the gunman:

Professor Carolyn Rude, chairwoman of the university's English department, said Cho's writing was so disturbing that he had been referred to the university's counseling service.

"Sometimes, in creative writing, people reveal things and you never know if it's creative or if they're describing things, if they're imagining things or just how real it might be," Rude said. "But we're all alert to not ignore things like this."

"He was very quiet, always by himself," neighbor Abdul Shash said. Shash said Cho spent a lot of his free time playing basketball and would not respond if someone greeted him.

Classmates painted a similar picture. Some said that on the first day of a British literature class last year, the 30 or so students went around and introduced themselves. When it was Cho's turn, he didn't speak.

On the sign-in sheet where everyone else had written their names, Cho had written a question mark. "Is your name, `Question mark?'" classmate Julie Poole recalled the professor asking. The young man offered little response.

Cho spent much of that class sitting in the back of the room, wearing a hat and seldom participating. In a small department, Cho distinguished himself for being anonymous. "He didn't reach out to anyone. He never talked," Poole said.

"We just really knew him as the question mark kid," Poole said.

Gunman kills 33 people at Virginia-Tech University, April 16, 2007.

In light of yesterday's horrific incident at Virgina Tech I am just hoping desperately and perhaps naively, that debate will result in a tightening of gun laws in this country. It is not rare that in public places I think, "it's possible someone has a gun right now". And that's not a nice thought. People are fragile. Sometimes all it takes is enough trauma to push you over the edge and boom, you kill over 30 people while searching for your girlfriend who surely wronged you in some way. Ugh. So sad.

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April 10, 2007

The Brain on the Stand by Jeffrey Rosen

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This article from the NYT magazine is a few weeks old but really interesting and asks the huge question: How does and should neuroscience affect criminal law?

From a ton of worthy excerpts I've whittled it down to these:

One important question raised by the Roper case was the question of where to draw the line in considering neuroscience evidence as a legal mitigation or excuse. Should courts be in the business of deciding when to mitigate someone’s criminal responsibility because his brain functions improperly, whether because of age, in-born defects or trauma? As we learn more about criminals’ brains, will we have to redefine our most basic ideas of justice?

Two of the most ardent supporters of the claim that neuroscience requires the redefinition of guilt and punishment are Joshua D. Greene, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard, and Jonathan D. Cohen, a professor of psychology who directs the neuroscience program at Princeton. Greene got Cohen interested in the legal implications of neuroscience, and together they conducted a series of experiments exploring how people’s brains react to moral dilemmas involving life and death. In particular, they wanted to test people’s responses in the f.M.R.I. scanner to variations of the famous trolley problem, which philosophers have been arguing about for decades.

The trolley problem goes something like this: Imagine a train heading toward five people who are going to die if you don’t do anything. If you hit a switch, the train veers onto a side track and kills another person. Most people confronted with this scenario say it’s O.K. to hit the switch. By contrast, imagine that you’re standing on a footbridge that spans the train tracks, and the only way you can save the five people is to push an obese man standing next to you off the footbridge so that his body stops the train. Under these circumstances, most people say it’s not O.K. to kill one person to save five.

“I wondered why people have such clear intuitions,” Greene told me, “and the core idea was to confront people with these two cases in the scanner and see if we got more of an emotional response in one case and reasoned response in the other.” As it turns out, that’s precisely what happened: Greene and Cohen found that the brain region associated with deliberate problem solving and self-control, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, was especially active when subjects confronted the first trolley hypothetical, in which most of them made a utilitarian judgment about how to save the greatest number of lives. By contrast, emotional centers in the brain were more active when subjects confronted the second trolley hypothetical, in which they tended to recoil at the idea of personally harming an individual, even under such wrenching circumstances. “This suggests that moral judgment is not a single thing; it’s intuitive emotional responses and then cognitive responses that are duking it out,” Greene said.

“To a neuroscientist, you are your brain; nothing causes your behavior other than the operations of your brain,” Greene says. “If that’s right, it radically changes the way we think about the law. The official line in the law is all that matters is whether you’re rational, but you can have someone who is totally rational but whose strings are being pulled by something beyond his control.” In other words, even someone who has the illusion of making a free and rational choice between soup and salad may be deluding himself, since the choice of salad over soup is ultimately predestined by forces hard-wired in his brain. Greene insists that this insight means that the criminal-justice system should abandon the idea of retribution — the idea that bad people should be punished because they have freely chosen to act immorally — which has been the focus of American criminal law since the 1970s, when rehabilitation went out of fashion. Instead, Greene says, the law should focus on deterring future harms. In some cases, he supposes, this might mean lighter punishments. “If it’s really true that we don’t get any prevention bang from our punishment buck when we punish that person, then it’s not worth punishing that person,” he says. (On the other hand, Carter Snead, the Notre Dame scholar, maintains that capital defendants who are not considered fully blameworthy under current rules could be executed more readily under a system that focused on preventing future harms.)

Morse insists that “brains do not commit crimes; people commit crimes” — a conclusion he suggests has been ignored by advocates who, “infected and inflamed by stunning advances in our understanding of the brain . . . all too often make moral and legal claims that the new neuroscience . . . cannot sustain.” He calls this “brain overclaim syndrome” and cites as an example the neuroscience briefs filed in the Supreme Court case Roper v. Simmons to question the juvenile death penalty. “What did the neuroscience add?” he asks. If adolescent brains caused all adolescent behavior, “we would expect the rates of homicide to be the same for 16- and 17-year-olds everywhere in the world — their brains are alike — but in fact, the homicide rates of Danish and Finnish youths are very different than American youths.” Morse agrees that our brains bring about our behavior — “I’m a thoroughgoing materialist, who believes that all mental and behavioral activity is the causal product of physical events in the brain” — but he disagrees that the law should excuse certain kinds of criminal conduct as a result. “It’s a total non sequitur,” he says. “So what if there’s biological causation? Causation can’t be an excuse for someone who believes that responsibility is possible. Since all behavior is caused, this would mean all behavior has to be excused.” Morse cites the case of Charles Whitman, a man who, in 1966, killed his wife and his mother, then climbed up a tower at the University of Texas and shot and killed 13 more people before being shot by police officers. Whitman was discovered after an autopsy to have a tumor that was putting pressure on his amygdala. “Even if his amygdala made him more angry and volatile, since when are anger and volatility excusing conditions?” Morse asks. “Some people are angry because they had bad mommies and daddies and others because their amygdalas are mucked up. The question is: When should anger be an excusing condition?”

The experiments, conducted by Elizabeth Phelps, who teaches psychology at New York University, combine brain scans with a behavioral test known as the Implicit Association Test, or I.A.T., as well as physiological tests of the startle reflex. The I.A.T. flashes pictures of black and white faces at you and asks you to associate various adjectives with the faces. Repeated tests have shown that white subjects take longer to respond when they’re asked to associate black faces with positive adjectives and white faces with negative adjectives than vice versa, and this is said to be an implicit measure of unconscious racism. Phelps and her colleagues added neurological evidence to this insight by scanning the brains and testing the startle reflexes of white undergraduates at Yale before they took the I.A.T. She found that the subjects who showed the most unconscious bias on the I.A.T. also had the highest activation in their amygdalas — a center of threat perception — when unfamiliar black faces were flashed at them in the scanner. By contrast, when subjects were shown pictures of familiar black and white figures — like Denzel Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. and Conan O’Brien — there was no jump in amygdala activity.

“Will we use brain imaging to track kids in school because we’ve discovered that certain brain function or morphology suggests aptitude?” he asks. “I work for NASA, and imagine how helpful it might be for NASA if it could scan your brain to discover whether you have a good enough spatial sense to be a pilot.” Wolpe says that brain imaging might eventually be used to decide if someone is a worthy foster or adoptive parent — a history of major depression and cocaine abuse can leave telltale signs on the brain, for example, and future studies might find parts of the brain that correspond to nurturing and caring.

April 2, 2007

Adding Method to Judging Mayhem By Adam Liptak

For those of you without a TimesSelect account, here's the article in its entirety:

There are, Dr. Michael H. Stone says, 22 varieties of killers, and he has ranked them in order of evil.

The worst are your psychopathic torture-murderers, at least where torture is the primary motive. Near the other end, at No. 4, are those who killed in self-defense “but had been extremely provocative towards the victim.”

Dr. Stone, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia, said he had put the scale together based on the biographies of hundreds of killers. “I have a very extensive spreadsheet,” he said.

Dr. Michael Welner, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at New York University, has even greater and much more practical ambitions. He is at work on a “depravity scale” to aid juries in separating the worst of the worst from the really bad. It is based on an Internet survey that asks respondents to rank various acts in order of heinousness.

I took the survey the other day, at www.depravityscale.org, but I found it hard and largely pointless to try to distinguish between, say, a contract killing and mailing anthrax.

Continue reading "Adding Method to Judging Mayhem By Adam Liptak" »

March 23, 2007

John Jay Forensic Psychology, here I come!!

I was recently accepted into John Jay's Forensic Psychology Masters program!! I am eager and excited to begin classes in the fall.

Here are my main areas of interest - perhaps one or two of you out there has similar fascinations!

The indeterminate art and science of jury consulting: Unnatural Selection by Matthew Hutson. Jury selection took its first halting steps toward science in 1972, when seven Vietnam War protesters were charged with conspiracy and put on trial in conservative Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Pretrial polls indicated that 80 percent of potential jurors would vote to convict. Social scientists armed with community surveys explored which backgrounds and attitudes suggested sympathetic jurors (good: women and Democrats; bad: the religious, college educated, subscribers to Reader's Digest). In the end, the Harrisburg Seven received only one minor conviction, and a field was born.

Psychopathology of cults, especially the Aum Shinrikyo: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami. The sarin attack exposed Tokyo authorities' total lack of preparation to cope with such fiendish urban terrorism. More interesting, however, is the variety of reactions among the survivors, a cross-section of Japanese citizens. Their individual voices remind us of the great diversity within what is too often viewed from afar as a homogeneous society. What binds most of them is their curious lack of anger at Aum. Chilling, too, is the realization that so many Aum members were intelligent, well-educated persons who tried to fill voids in their lives by following Shoko Asahara, a mad guru who promised salvation through total subordination to his will.

Serial returners: Chronic Returners May Be 'Bulimic' Spenders. Dr. April Lane Benson, a psychologist who authored "I Shop, Therefore I Am," said serial returning is a well-kept secret because it carries so much embarrassment and shame. It's "something people don't tend to talk about because the person who is the compulsive returner is often very perfectionistic and feels that they should be more in control," said Benson, a psychologist who specializes in treating compulsive shoppers.

March 7, 2007

Insufferable Clinginess, or Healthy Dependence? by Benedict Carey

A moderately interesting NYT article on neediness.

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Excerpts:

Neediness has a familiar face: the close friend who is continually asking for reassurance, for advice, for help with the wireless connection.

For some reason, that line is so funny to me. No! I don't want to help you with your wifi problems!

Tip for parents:

Researchers measure the strength of dependency traits by having people rate how highly they endorse certain beliefs, like, “After a fight with a friend, I must make amends as soon as possible"; "I am very sensitive to others for signs of rejection; or “I have a lot of trouble making decisions for myself."

In studies, people who score highly on these tests also tend to rate their parents as either authoritarian or overly protective (or one of each). "The message growing up is: You’re fragile, you’re weak, you need someone powerful to look after you," Dr. Bornstein said.

On compromise:

At least in the short run, dependent traits seemed to buffer the relationships in times of crisis, the authors suggest. Afraid of losing the relationship, “individuals high on dependency may actually behave in a more positive way to their partner, like being more complying, being more loving,” said Bénédicte Lowyck, the psychologist who led the study.

In the long run, Ms. Lowyck said, it is not at all clear whether such protective instincts nourish a relationship or smother it. The answer will depend on the couple, experts say, and likely on the content of a partner’s dependence: how it is expressed, whether the person is generous as well as needy, flexible as well as anxious.

February 27, 2007

Flashing red light: Book critic not impressed

There should be a bright red light that flashes around a book review to warn the reader that the critic is not impressed. Otherwise the harshness can be a bit jolting - or perhaps I am too sensitive of a reader today but I was looking forward to reading this book review since it's about criminal law and courtroom psychology but alas Janet Maslin ripped him a new one. Poor guy.

February 7, 2007

How Do We See Red? Count the Ways by Natalie Angier

As I sit on my red couch clutching my red coffee mug, I urge you to read this article on...the color red! Not to be confused with the color purple. Although that's my other favorite color - and a good book in case you'd never heard of it.

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"If you want to make a point, you make it in red." - Dr. Nicholas Humphrey

I guess this blog wants to make a point.

In Rigorous Test, Talk Therapy Works for Panic Disorder by Benedict Carey

As someone who has suffered panic attacks in the past, this new study is interesting and drives home the fact that there's no quick cure for panic disorder or for anything else really.

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February 1, 2007

My friend Duncan Watts has the #1 Breakthrough Idea for 2007 as deemed by Harvard Business Review!

Congrats Dunk!! Let's celebrate! Dinner's on you!! :-)

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Take that, Mr. Pop-Science Millionaire Gladwell!

Posing as a Family, Sex Offenders Stun a Town by Jennifer Steinhauer

Should we throw a castration party for them?

To neighbors, Casey Price was a seventh grader with acne and a baseball cap who lived an unremarkable life among a bevy of male relatives.

He built the occasional skateboard ramp and did wheelies on his bicycle down the streets of this subdivision of stucco homes north of Phoenix.

In nearby Surprise, where Casey was enrolled as a 12-year-old in a public school for four months, he was regarded as a shy, average student with chronic attendance problems. A man identified as his uncle had registered him, attended curriculum night and e-mailed his teachers about homework assignments.

Now Casey is in jail, and his former neighbors and classmates have learned the unthinkable: Not only is Casey not Casey � his real name is Neil H. Rodreick II � but he is also a 29-year-old convicted sex offender who kept a youthful appearance with the aid of razors and makeup.

And the men known as his uncle, grandfather and cousin, who until recently shared a three-bedroom house with him here, were not family at all, but a web of convicted sex offenders and predators, law enforcement officials say, preying in part on one another.

January 31, 2007

First successful federal capital punishment prosecution in New York in more than 50 years

Jury Agrees on Death Sentence for the Killer of Two Detectives by Michael Brick.

After the verdict was read, the defendant, Ronell Wilson, 24, rubbed his palms, looked at his mother, then stuck his tongue out at the families of his victims.

Uuuummm...mentally stable much??!!

January 24, 2007

Do You Believe in Magic? by Benedict Carey

Another NYTimes article examining our simultaneously rational and irrational minds.

A graduate school application can go sour in as many ways as a blind date. The personal essay might seem too eager, the references too casual. The admissions officer on duty might be nursing a grudge. Or a hangover.

Rachel Riskind of Austin, Tex., nonetheless has a good feeling about her chances for admittance to the University of Michigan's exclusive graduate program in psychology, and it's not just a matter of her qualifications.

On a recent afternoon, as she was working on the admissions application, she went out for lunch with co-workers. Walking from the car to the restaurant in a misting rain, she saw a woman stroll by with a Michigan umbrella.

"I felt it was a sign; you almost never see Michigan stuff here," said Ms. Riskind, 22. "And I guess I think that has given me a kind of confidence. Even if it's a false confidence, I know that that in itself can help people do well."

January 22, 2007

Welcome to the unhappiest day of the year.

So far, it's representing pretty well!

For the Worst of Us, the Diagnosis May Be 'Evil' by Benedict Carey

Not a recent article but nonetheless an interesting NYTimes article on using the term 'evil' to describe horrific human behavior.

January 19, 2007

Expert Ties Ex-Player's Suicide to Brain Damage by Alan Schwarz

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This interesting NYTimes article suggests that concussions sustained during football play can cause depression and ultimately lead to suicide. The football industry is less willing to accept this causality.

Excerpt:

Asked in 1994 by The Philadelphia Inquirer to count his career concussions, Mr. Waters replied, "I think I lost count at 15." He later added: "I just wouldn't say anything. I'd sniff some smelling salts, then go back in there."

Mr. Nowinski also found a note in the Inquirer in 1991 about how Mr. Waters had been hospitalized after sustaining a concussion in a game against Tampa Bay and experiencing a seizure-like episode on the team plane that was later diagnosed as body cramps; Mr. Waters played the next week.

January 16, 2007

Can Johnny Come Out and (Be Taught to) Play? by Benedict Carey

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An interesting NYTimes article on a new look at playground design and asks these fundamental questions:

How much help do children need to do what should come naturally? And to what extent does expert guidance � embodied by the so-called play workers � represent adults� expectations of children, rather than what the youngsters themselves want or need?

January 15, 2007

The Ideological Animal by Jay Dixit, Psychology Today

As a psychologist in training, I recently subscribed to Psychology Today mostly because there don't seem to be any other psychology mags out there let alone any interesting ones (let me know if I'm wrong). I was pleased to find The Ideological Animal in this month's issue. Here's a long excerpt which I'm highlighting not to be incendiary but because my life experience strongly agrees with the studies' conclusions - do you agree? disagree? Ridiculous comments will be deleted.

"All people are born alike - except Republicans and Democrats," quipped Groucho Marx, and in fact it turns out that personality differences between liberals and conservatives are evident in early childhood. In 1969, Berkeley professors Jack and Jeanne Block embarked on a study of childhood personality, asking nursery school teachers to rate children's temperaments. They weren't even thinking about political orientation.

Twenty years later, they decided to compare the subjects' childhood personalities with their political preferences as adults. They found arresting patterns. As kids, liberals had developed close relationships with peers and were rated by their teachers as self-reliant, energetic, impulsive, and resilient. People who were conservative at age 23 had been described by their teachers as easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and vulnerable at age 3. The reason for the difference, the Blocks hypothesized, was that insecure kids most needed the reassurance of tradition and authority, and they found it in conservative politics.

The most comprehensive review of personality and political orientation to date is a 2003 meta-analysis of 88 prior studies involving 22,000 participants. The researchers�John Jost of NYU, Arie Kruglanski of the University of Maryland, and Jack Glaser and Frank Sulloway of Berkeley - found that conservatives have a greater desire to reach a decision quickly and stick to it, and are higher on conscientiousness, which includes neatness, orderliness, duty, and rule-following. Liberals are higher on openness, which includes intellectual curiosity, excitement-seeking, novelty, creativity for its own sake, and a craving for stimulation like travel, color, art, music, and literature.

The study's authors also concluded that conservatives have less tolerance for ambiguity, a trait they say is exemplified when George Bush says things like, "Look, my job isn't to try to nuance. My job is to tell people what I think," and "I'm the decider." Those who think the world is highly dangerous and those with the greatest fear of death are the most likely to be conservative.

Liberals, on the other hand, are "more likely to see gray areas and reconcile seemingly conflicting information," says Jost. As a result, liberals like John Kerry, who see many sides to every issue, are portrayed as flip-floppers. "Whatever the cause, Bush and Kerry exemplify the cognitive styles we see in the research," says Jack Glaser, one of the study's authors, "Bush in appearing more rigid in his thinking and intolerant of uncertainty and ambiguity, and Kerry in appearing more open to ambiguity and to considering alternative positions."

December 21, 2006

Holiday gift giving. Don't do it.

While we are on a plane for about 16 today (14 to Tokyo then two to Shanghai) you can enjoy my fellow Choate alumnus Surowiecki's discussion of how wasteful and often unrequited gift giving during the holidays is. So true. But then again so many things in the New Yorker always are.

Insights: Guessing the Killer Is a Confidence Boost by Eric Nagourney

"A new study finds that people with low self-esteem don't seem to like it much when a story ends with a twist. In a whodunit, they like the "who" to be the person they suspected all along."

A cool new study as reported in the New York Times.

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I won't keep you in suspense - this is how I feel about it. I don't like the "who" to be the person suspected all along at all which suggests I have a healthy self-esteem - cool. However I really don't like it if the "who" is a twist just to be a twist in which case I find it highly insulting.

via Kottke.

December 11, 2006

Forensic Psychology

I'm considering going back to school in Forensic Psychology. Ya or nay?

I make all my important life decisions based on blog reader feedback. Be a part of this twisted process!

Here's more reading to help you help me. I look forward to your thoughtful thoughts!

1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

December 6, 2006

Procrastination is rational

As I sit on my couch cramming the writing of my essay due in a few hours (that I started a few hours ago even though I had the assignment a week ago)...I come across this brilliance and know that I as a procrastinator should self-hate no longer as I am in fact rational and brilliant:

It's twelve hours before your presentation to the credit committee. The work isn't done yet. The model isn't working. The team is starting to look burned out. You're looking back over the week and remembering those hours you killed chatting with friends on the phone, shopping for Christmas presents, reading websites and looking for a new apartment. If only you could have skipped the procrastination you could get your work done smoothly, and skip these late nights.

Wrong. It turns out the reason procrastination might be so ubiquitous is that it might be rational. An article by Isaac Sorkin and Henry Swift gives us plenty of good reasons why procrastination makes sense.

Fixed costs to starting work. Just getting started involves some costsfilling up on coffee, making a couple of calls to clear your schedule, making sure your Adderall prescription is filled. Putting off work for one long killer session means you don't have do do these things over and over again.
Decreasing marginal costs of working. It's possible that the second hour of work is easier than the first, and the third easier than that. Analysts see this all the time in modeling. Things start clicking. You start to see through the spreadsheets, seeing seven moves ahead, the way chess champions know where things are going after the opening. Meetings often work this way too, getting easier as everyone gets a feel for the other side.
Thick-market externalities. You probably goof off at the same time as your friends and co-workers, and buckle-down at the same time too. It's fun to send links to your buddies, laugh about that Swedish girl from the bar last night, skip out together to head over to Starbucks. Skipping these things to work smoothly over the day involves an opportunity cost of missing out. So it makes sense to clump work like the rest of the team.

For more: An economic study of procrastination.

Thanks to KO for this great and very timely link!

I now have to get back to working and procrastinating!!!

November 21, 2006

New York Times Mental Health & Behavior

...is a great section!

Check out some examples:

Just Thinking About Money Can Turn the Mind Stingy.

Born to be Good.

A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues.

You Are Cleared for Takeoff

Famous Patients and the Lessons They Teach.

Feel free to use this account I set up for you guys!

User: ahblog
Password: smallestpancake

November 13, 2006

Become a millionaire by using your brain! Imagine that.

A cognitive neuroscientist shares secrets from his success on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire show.

Research tends to support this idea: a first impulse is more often correct than a second, revised decision. But what if $250,000 is at stake?

* via Kottke.

November 10, 2006

Mind your faux pas!

A nice list of what to watch out for by country.

I'd love to hear faux pas in contention - spot any?

* via Kottke.

November 9, 2006

Murder confession on national radio

This is for real - the woman doesn't have a clue.

Thanks to my brother for this link from the Tom Leykis Show!

November 1, 2006

My Rapist by Maureen Gibbon for New York Times

This article will certainly make you stop what you're doing and think.

Via Kottke.

Article begins:

One day several years ago, I opened up my hometown newspaper and found a picture of my rapist on the Engagements page.

Maybe I shouldnt have been surprised. I knew he stayed in the area. But it still shocked me to see his photo. He was marrying a younger woman, one with a child, according to the article.

Continue reading "My Rapist by Maureen Gibbon for New York Times" »

October 31, 2006

The truest, true, TRUTH

"...the American compulsion to take your identity from your profession, with its corollary of only one trade to a practitioner, may be a convenience to society but it is burdensome and constricting to yourself."

* Thanks to Richard Gilman RIP for immortalizing these written words and to John for sending this along!

October 30, 2006

Coffee is good & Cellphones are bad

Could coffee protect your liver against alcohol?

Cellphone radiation makes brain more excitable.

Thanks New Scientist!

October 3, 2006

These pictures speak a thousand words

One of the many interesting things I've come across in my psych courses is this example of identical twins which nicely illustrates different lifestyles, different aging process and 'imagery principle' or 'a picture speaks a thousand words':

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September 26, 2006

Preserving Ethnic Identity through Plastic Surgery

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Interested in preserving your ethnic identity by getting plastic surgery? You're in luck. Dr. Kwan is passionate about preserving ethnic identity through plastic surgery or rather, passionate about helping his wannabe-Caucasian clients rationalize their actions by deluding them into believing they're preserving their ethnicity. And making tons and tons of money while perpetrating the delusion.

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Yeah! Don't misinterpret! When an Asian woman wants a crease in her eyelid that didn't exist all her life, it's just to preserve her ethnicity. And when she wants her nose bridge raised and her nostrils narrowed, that's called ethnic preservation!

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Ooooh, that's good! Using the Asian model minority status to make Asians feel good and empowered about being wealthy and hence a justifiably sizeable percentage of people who have plastic surgery!!

Any thoughts on this bullshit?

September 19, 2006

Recent kidnappings & The Collector by John Fowles

Over Labor Day weekend I heard all the weird and frightening details about the eighteen year old Austrian girl who was kidnapped and held for over eight years in a windowless cell and then now I hear about the fourteen year old girl who was kidnapped and held for ten days until she snuck a text message to her mom that consequently saved her. Craziness.

Makes me think of a great book I read a few years back. It's about...guess what? A guy who kidnaps a girl and keeps her for a long while and all the mind games and tortures that ensue. If you're drawn to this morbid stuff and prefer it served to you well-written, you'll love The Collector by John Fowles.

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September 18, 2006

MIND GAMES: What Neuroeconomics tells us about money and the brain by John Cassidy

In the hot field of behavioral economics another interesting article has been written and tells us that most people have strong 'loss aversion' which often makes us lose out on beneficial, risky opportunities.

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September 14, 2006

Dreams help solidify fictional relationships

Last night I dreamed that Jonah and I had lunch with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Saarsgard and then we went to hear a string quartet in a beautiful little garden that reminded me of Paris. They were really nice, we had a great time and we all looked forward to getting together again.

Because of this dream I feel justified for now having fond feelings for them.

September 13, 2006

First-date psychology triumphs over textbook psychology

Memo: If you go to a Barnes & Noble cafe hoping to read your psychology homework, it probably won't happen. There will inevitably be two people on their first-date and you will not be able to resist the real-life psych material that the conversation provides! On one hand it was so painful to watch the awkward body language and to hear the even more awkward repeated usage of words and phrases to fill space. On the other hand it was delicious to my senses and I had to stop when realized I was doing nothing but eavesdropping for almost an hour.

P.S. The guy was into the girl and the girl wasn't into the guy.

September 12, 2006

Question about death and so much more

Walking home on Saturday night Jonah asked me if I had a choice to either die in my sleep or to be told I had a short while to live, which would I prefer? Of course our respective preferences were immediately clear as day to each other but we still enjoyed discussing (those of you who find yourselves bored, try discussing a topic - fun times!). Jonah argued for the latter choice which would enable you to say your goodbyes and I replied horrifyingly, "I don't even like to say goodbye at parties!! Do you think I want to say goodbye forever??!!" But then he said, "what if people wanted to say goodbye to you?" and my ego kicked in thinking it might be cool to hear some good stuff about you before you die but alas I would, in no uncertain terms, choose the 'death in sleep' option whereas Jonah would choose the 'time to say goodbye' option. And that's the fundamental difference between us.

What would you choose and why??

September 11, 2006

The Fame Motive by Benedict Carey

An interesting New York Times article on our desire to be famous. This is not only interesting because it tackles the most interesting question of human psychology but also because I just started taking two pyschology courses in preparation for grad school!

---
Mental Health & Behavior
The Fame Motive

By BENEDICT CAREY
Published: August 22, 2006

Money and power are handy, but millions of ambitious people are after something other than the corner office or the beach house on St. Bart�s. They want to swivel necks, to light a flare in others� eyes, to walk into a crowded room and feel the conversation stop. They are busy networking, auditioning, talking up their latest project � a screenplay, a memoir, a new reality show � to satisfy a desire so obvious it is all but invisible.

What�s the formula for fame? Some write fictionalized memoirs, like James Frey, top; others, like Paris Hilton, above, become famous for, well, simply being famous.
�To be noticed, to be wanted, to be loved, to walk into a place and have others care about what you�re doing, even what you had for lunch that day: that�s what people want, in my opinion,� said Kaysar Ridha, 26, of Irvine, Calif., a recent favorite of fans of the popular CBS reality series �Big Brother.� �It�s strange and twisted, because when that attention does come, the irony is you want more privacy.�

For most of its existence, the field of psychology has ignored fame as a primary motivator of human behavior: it was considered too shallow, too culturally variable, too often mingled with other motives to be taken seriously. But in recent years, a small number of social scientists have begun to study and think about fame in a different way, ranking it with other goals, measuring its psychological effects, characterizing its devoted seekers.

Continue reading "The Fame Motive by Benedict Carey" »

August 25, 2006

An Insider Explains Italy, Land of Cheery Dysfunction by William Grimes

A hilarious review of a book about Italy and Italians. Enjoy!!

---
Books of the Times
An Insider Explains Italy, Land of Cheery Dysfunction

By WILLIAM GRIMES
Published: August 23, 2006

In Italy, red lights come in many varieties. A rare few actually mean stop. Others, to the Italian driver, suggest different interpretations. At a pedestrian crossing at 7 a.m., with no pedestrians around, it is a �negotiable red,� more like a weak orange. At a traffic intersection, red could mean what the Florentines call rosso pieno, or full red, but it might, with no cars coming, be more of a suggestion than a command. It all depends.

The red-light mentality, as the journalist Beppe Severgnini sees it, explains volumes about Italy and the Italians. �We think it�s an insult to our intelligence to comply with a regulation,� he writes in �La Bella Figura,� his witty, insightful tour of the Italian mind. �Obedience is boring. We want to think about it. We want to decide whether a particular law applies to our specific case. In that place, at that time.�

This principle applies to traffic regulations, taxes, solemn laws and personal behavior. Everything is personal and open to discussion. As a result, Italy totters along in a state of amiable chaos, its situation desperate but not serious, which is more or less the way Italians like it, those in charge and those, in principle, being led. �Controllers and controlled have an unspoken agreement,� Mr. Severgnini writes. �You don�t change, we don�t change, and Italy doesn�t change, but we all complain that we can�t go on like this.�

Mr. Severgnini, a columnist for the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera, turned a fond eye on the United States in his last book, �Ciao, America!,� but this time around, on his home turf, he bites harder and deeper. The paradoxes of Italian life engage him. They bring out the reflective wit that, he argues, is native to most Italians and may be their most potent weapon in the struggle with bureaucracy and social dysfunction. Intertwined with native wit is a strong sense of self-esteem enjoyed by even the humblest Italian, as well as a fatal weakness for beauty and surface appeal, �la bella figura.�

Italians, in other words, would just as soon look good as be good. The country suffers from an ethics deficit, most clearly visible in the attitude toward taxes. Lying outrageously about one�s income is considered normal. In the United States the public regards tax evasion as morally reprehensible. If he were to cheat on his taxes in Italy, Mr. Severgnini writes, �two neighbors would come round to ask me how I did it, and two more would loathe me in silence.� No one would report him.

Mr. Severgnini presents his guide as a tour that is partly geographical and partly conceptual. Over the course of 10 days, he travels from Milan to Tuscany to the far south: Sicily and Sardinia. But the places are merely excuses for little treatises on beaches, restaurants, cellphones, airports, condominiums, piazzas, gardens and offices, all sprinkled with clever observations and telling statistics.

The differences between Italian and British flight attendants, illustrated in a hilarious vignette, help explain the Italian sense of personal drama and the national talent for creatively responding to small crises. Italian flight attendants are poor at serving you coffee but good at cleaning it up and sympathizing when you spill it. Some of this is merely glib. Mr. Severgnini, himself no stranger to the lure of la bella figura, would just as soon turn a beautiful phrase as make a point, and he might do well to heed one of his own points about the restlessly fertile Italian brain: �you can�t amaze everyone every three minutes.�

At the same time, Mr. Severgnini, as he skips lightly from one topic to the next, manages to sneak in some revealing statistics. One in three Italians finds a job through a relative. One in five has moved in the last 10 years, half the European average. Telecommuting is virtually nonexistent, engaged in by only 0.2 percent of the work force � in part, Mr. Severgnini theorizes, because it deprives Italians of the social drama of the workplace.

The Italy that Mr. Severgnini describes seethes with frustration. Government works poorly. The legal system barely functions. Too many Italians are crowded into too little space. Fear of failure stymies innovation. Mr. Severgnini is dismayed at the national genius for enjoyment and the Italian inability to plan for the future. �Our sun is setting in installments,� he writes. �It�s festive and flamboyant, but it�s still a sunset.�

Yet in many areas Italians have jumped at modernity and thrown over tradition almost casually. Cellphones are a national mania. They allow Italians to be Italian in new, entertaining ways. The shopping mall (but not Internet shopping) is popular because Italians pretend that it�s a piazza. New nonsmoking laws, widely predicted to be an absolute failure, have been accepted without a fuss. They created new gathering places and new forms of conviviality. One young man cited by Mr. Severgnini started smoking as a way to meet girls. Restaurants go in for all sorts of newfangled gadgets in their bathrooms, and Mr. Severgnini has a field day with the automated sinks, concealed light switches and baroque flush technology that challenge the Italian diner today.

There is one rule, by the way, that cannot be violated. It is wrong, and possibly illegal, to order a cappuccino after 10 a.m. This is worse than eating pizza in the middle of the day. It is nonnegotiable. Discussion over. Rosso pieno.

---

* Via Ann.

August 16, 2006

Q: What is wrong with this craigslist posting? A: It's in the last line.

While perusing craigslist for part-time research jobs, I came across this opportunity. I've bookmarked it in my "When I want an induced panic attack..." folder.

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July 18, 2006

Thanks GMail, I don't even have a kid yet and I already feel like a bad mom

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July 13, 2006

Some Dark Thoughts on Happiness by Jennifer Senior

A very interesting New York Magazine article.

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Perhaps the most important quote

"Perfectionism is the highest form of self-abuse."

* Read it in this month's Glamour mag interview with Ashley Judd who attributed it to her priest but who's the originator? We may never know.

July 5, 2006

Hoarders & Returners

I've been fascinated with hoarders and returners for a while now and have started accumulating information for a documentary. If you'd like to share any thoughts, anecdotes or experiences on these topics please comment or email me.

Interesting BBC article on hoarders and a ABC article on returners.

THE PERFECT MARK: How a Massachusetts psychotherapist fell for a Nigerian email scam

A fascinating and frustrating New Yorker article by Mitchell Zuckoff - How does someone, especially an educated someone, get duped time and time again??

May 24, 2006

Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures

This book is interesting to me as most things Japanese are but it's also pitiful and offensive how much she 'takes out on' Japan, Japanese culture and people because of her miserable childhood and terrible memories of Japan.

If you feel like reading something that is annoying but sometimes also offers analysis and truths worth gleaning, here's the book for you!

PoliteLies.jpg

May 12, 2006

Disturbing article on beauty treatments, sheep and Oprah.

Read this article.

In case you needed more proof, you'll discover that people are sheep. It's truly sad that so many women have lost their minds and souls.

Is it such a crazy idea that what makes for the most beautiful woman is one who has learned to embrace her so called flaws and aging and through that process has become truly confident and attractive??!!

Thanks to Celeste for the article!

May 10, 2006

Underground : The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

I am obsessed with this book right now. It's comprised of Murakami's interviews with the Sarin Gas Attack victims and the perpetrators. Can't put it down and have started taking baths every night so the book is 50% wet at any given time.

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April 28, 2006

Stephen, the chef formerly known as the most irritating and most addictive to watch on Top Chef

Stephen, your uplifted chin and smirks, unreserved superiority complex and misanthropic nature will be sorely missed.

Captions to animate each photo: 1) I'm so above you I can't even lower my head to see you, 2) I'm simply better than you and 3) I'm recoiled at the thought that we have to share the same air right now.

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At least he *is* talented!

February 28, 2006

PURSUING HAPPINESS: Two scholars explore the fragility of contentment.

A worthwhile read by John Lanchester for the NewYorker.

I tend to agree that people are probably most happy when they're doing as opposed to seeking, pondering, obsessing, etc.

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January 26, 2006

Baby Name Wizard: Valuable Baby Naming Resource & Historical Reference

This is a cool piece of software that allows you to see a name's popularity by decade. For example, Edna was really popular at the turn of the century but not so much anymore and Olivia has been rising in popularity.

It looks like this and it is should be renamed the Addictive Baby Name Wizard:

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January 17, 2006

CUSTOMER SERVICE CHEAT SHEET!!!

THIS IS FANTASTIC!!

ISN'T IT RIDICULOUS THAT WE NEED A CHEAT SHEET FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE??!!

* This post was deserving of the all-cap status.

December 12, 2005

Psychiatry Ponders Whether Extreme Bias Can Be an Illness

It's a fine line how much to aquiesce to the times and how much to retain what you feel are your principles however I think extreme bias is something that should be evolved out of us. Of course it never will be but this little cynic can dream a little dream right?

December 2, 2005

Love your job

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Thanks to Sally Rumble for spreading the cheer!

October 21, 2005

Oh dear G-d help us.

They are not what they appear to be - click to see.

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Thanks to my buddy Paul Ohan for being up on the White Nationalist Movement!!

August 3, 2005

Now this is the type of study I support!

Alcohol helps you think!

I do however turn to the side and raise an eyebrow about the fact that this study was conducted by Aussies.

* via Huffington Post.

May 24, 2005

Sarcasm proves you're not braindamaged!

Researchers Pinpoint Brain's Sarcasm Sensor.

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via Eyebeam's ReBlog.

May 11, 2005

This man is a psychopath. Somebody, get him some help.

Poor baby geese, RIP.

April 19, 2005

Ruts are the worrrrst.

How to get out of a life rut.

What does it take to escape a rut? A combination of self-awareness, strategic planning, and perseverance. "There's an old coaching mantra that says, 'Nothing changes until something changes,'" Cohen says. "Talking about change isn't enough, and thinking differently isn't enough, either."

via kottke.org

March 23, 2005

Dare To Bare: Vanessa Beecroft

Her basketcase-ness is sad but intriguing...

Sunday March 13, 2005
The Observer

Shortly before taking the Long Island Rail Road out
to spend the day with Italian conceptual artist
Vanessa Beecroft, I eat a huge American-style
breakfast at the Empire Diner in Chelsea - two fried
eggs, potato chips, English muffin, two slices of
toast - and end up with stomach ache. This
over-fuelling stems from the knowledge that
Beecroft, now 35, has struggled to control an
obsession with food since the age of 12. Bearing
this in mind, it's unlikely she'll be offering me
anything to eat. My hunch proves correct. When I
arrive at the scenic, coastal home that Beecroft
shares with her husband Greg Durkin, 28, a social
researcher, and their two sons (Dean, three, and
Virgil, seven months) her British assistant, Ian
Davis, mutters knowingly: 'I hope you had breakfast
today.'

Everything in Vanessa Beecroft's life revolves
around food. She and her husband bought their rural
retreat in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, partly
because it would cut Beecroft's access to the
24-hour convenience stores available on every street
corner in New York City - too much of a temptation
when the craving for a binge comes on. They also
bought it because it had an indoor swimming pool.

Beecroft suffers from what psychiatrists call
'exercise bulimia', a compulsive need to burn off
unwanted calories using excessive exercise. For
Beecroft, swimming was, until recently, an
intoxicating drug. When she was pregnant with Dean,
she insisted - despite the protests of her husband
and his mother, Sheril Durkin, a registered
dietician - on swimming 100 laps a day to ensure her
weight gain was kept to the minimum. Today, she no
longer swims, instead practising ashtanga yoga
('power yoga') seven days a week. Without it, she
says she would 'go crazy'. In her teens, she tried
unsuccessfully to vomit food she wished she hadn't
eaten - all that saved her from rampant bulimia was
her body's refusal to play ball. The spectre of
anorexia haunted her teens and twenties, too, when
she smoked to keep her weight down, attempted
crash-dieting with amphetamines, undertook damaging
fasts, exercised beyond any sensible limits of
endurance, and kept a diary - The Book of Food -
detailing every single morsel that passed her lips
between 1983 and 1993 (for example, if she ate an
orange, she'd note the date, time and how it made
her feel). Even now, a decade after she stopped
keeping the food diary, there are still days when
she longs to note what she eats, such was the power
of this coping mechanism.

Beecroft announced herself boldly to the art world
in 1993, when she showed The Book of Food. After a
professor at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera
Scenografia in Milan, where she studied from 1988 to
1993, invited her to participate in a group show at
the city's Inga-Pin gallery, she adapted what
remained of The Book of Food (the first four years
of entries were lost by a friend hired to type them
up) into a white cube-shaped book. The book, placed
in the centre of an empty gallery, was supplemented
by a 'live sculpture' or 'live painting' of 30
girls, consisting of fellow Brera students or girls
found on the streets of Milan, who were instructed
to move around the space, aloof, numb, dressed in
Beecroft's own clothes - mostly red or yellow (two
of Beecroft's favourite colours). Many of the girls,
chosen for their uncanny resemblance to Beecroft,
were themselves struggling with eating disorders. On
the walls, drawings and watercolours of girls
wrestling with eating disorders, primitive brightly
coloured stick figures (sometimes just an arm or a
torso or hair or a leg) reminiscent of sketches by
Tracey Emin (all chronologically titled VBDW01,
VBDW02, VBDW03, the acronym standing for 'Vanessa
Beecroft Drawings and Watercolours').

This first 'performance' set the blueprint for
Beecroft's future as a conceptual artist. Since
then, she has staged a further 53 performances
around the world (all titled VB01, VB02, VB25, VB45,
etc), each more elaborate than its predecessor.

Earlier performances tended to feature a handful of
girls wearing high heels (Beecroft calls heels
'pedestals'), cheap costumes and wardrobe, allusions
to European cinema (films by Fassbinder, Godard,
Visconti) and classical painting (Rembrandt,
Holbein, della Francesca), and red, yellow or
platinum wigs. As budgets grew in proportion to her
reputation, she started using professional models,
strikingly presented by make-up artists such as Pat
McGrath, and wearing clothes and accessories loaned
or specially created by fashion designers such as
Miuccia Prada, Tom Ford, Helmut Lang, Dolce &
Gabbana, and Manolo Blahnik, all eager to associate
themselves with Beecroft's complex vision (even if
Beecroft's assistant tells me 'The fashion in
Vanessa's work is a red herring' and Beecroft
herself says, 'I don't follow fashion').

Many of these mutually beneficial artist/designer
collaborations (Beecroft gets kudos from the fashion
press, the designers get intellectual cachet from
the art press) are brokered by Beecroft's long-term
friend/mentor Franca Sozzani, the influential editor
of Vogue Italia, who sees a very clear role for
fashion in Beecroft's work.

'Fashion is important in her performances because
she subdues it to her will,' Sozzani tells me. 'It's
not important as a logo, trend or status symbol:
fashion items are used to underline the woman's body
and to express the concept behind her performances.'
The 'girls' (Beecroft's term for the models) have
also become increasingly stripped, to the extent
where most performances since VB23 have featured
partial or full nudity. These beautiful and
disturbing tableaux vivants, which are always staged
twice (once for the public, once for photographing
and filming: Beecroft's network of dealers trade in
limited-edition photographs and DVD/video films of
each performance) have confounded critics eager for
easy categorisation, been pronounced 'dope' by
celebrity fans such as Leonardo DiCaprio, been
slated as vapid art/fashion fusion catwalk shows,
and enraged older generations of feminists while
thrilling the younger. As Maria Elena Buszek, an art
historian at the Kansas City Art Institute,
explains: 'Beecroft is the veritable poster-girl for
our current, third wave of feminist art history.
There's an ambivalence in her work that is present
in the work of many of her contemporaries, which is
the result of a culture that has both internalised
feminist goals more than any generation that
preceded it, and chafes against what it perceives as
feminism's restraints.'

On 8 April, at the Neue National galerie in Berlin,
she will stage her biggest performance to date,
VB55, featuring 100 girls. The resulting three
prints and solitary DVD are expected to set a new
record for sales of Vanessa Beecroft's art.

Arriving at Beecroft's house, my taxi driver clocks
the silver BMW in the garage, the indoor swimming
pool and the sprawling countryside surrounding the
house, shakes his head and says, 'Damn, these
motherfuckers got it all.' At the door, I'm greeted
by one of two full-time nannies, a smiley Virgil in
her arms.

In the living room, I find Beecroft sitting on a
white-leather couch, talking with her assistant. As
she introduces herself in a lilting Italian accent,
I note her healthy weight, the toned, muscular
ashtanga arms, her big eyes - at once little-girl
vulnerable and tomboyishly tough.

It transpires that, in a moment, she is heading
outside to pose naked for the photographer and his
assistant, the four inches of snow that fell
overnight making for a beautiful backdrop. 'I'm
letting society take revenge,' she says, alluding to
critics who hone in on her willingness to put naked
women on display, while never - with one or two
exceptions - appearing in the performances herself.

She tells me she hates being photographed. 'When I
am photographed, in my face and in my eyes there is
too much heaviness. I look at a camera and all the
heaviness comes. But the girls, they're pure.' The
girls (with the notable exception of VB39 and VB41,
both of which featured male members of the US Navy
as 'models', her performances always consist of
female models) are self-portraits according to
Beecroft, diary entries translated to a safely
distant, removed canvas of space and anonymous
flesh. She assigns the girls - who vary in look from
heavy to plain to model-beautiful to tattooed to
pierced to unhealthily thin - her shame, her
self-disgust, her anxieties. She turns the girls,
some of whom have been diagnosed with eating
disorders, into a reflection of her own ugly
emotional panorama.

Art magazine Parkett has also noted that there's a
'cruel classicism' to her aesthetic: she makes the
girls stand for up to three hours in uncomfortable
high heels, sometimes several sizes too small; she
has had the models' pubic hair shaved to make their
public violation more complete; and she gives them
strict rules (don't talk, don't move, don't make eye
contact with the audience). It's no wonder that
Fassbinder, a master of cruelty and control, is one
of her favourite film directors (Fassbinder
actresses Irm Hermann and Hanna Schygulla were cast
as 'characters' for VB51 in Germany).

After 54 performances, many remain unsure what to
make of Beecroft's work. Some see the fashion
element as superficial, some see the naked Helmut
Newton-esque images of these women as little more
than 'hooters for intellectuals' (as one review
famously dubbed her work). Some say she's demeaning
women, parading them like hunks of meat, in the
process creating a male wet dream, while others say
she's reclaiming sexualised images of women from the
pages of Penthouse and recontextualising them as
symbols of feminist empowerment.

Laura Piccinini, a journalist for Italian women's
monthly Amica, told me that Beecroft's eating
disorders, her obsession with fashion, her
deliberately provocative use of nudity, make her a
perfect tabloid-friendly artist for our
confessional, celebrity-gossip and
reality-TV-obsessed times. Beecroft's art is one of
exposure.

'I had a difficult childhood,' says Beecroft, still
shivering from the photo shoot, as she warms her
hands on a mug of Yogi Tea. We're sitting at the
dining table, a whole shelf of Helmut Newton books
behind her (when Newton photographed her wearing a
leather bikini for Vogue, he screamed at her: 'I am
the father of your performances!'). She was born in
Genoa, Italy, on 25 April 1969, to a British father,
Andrew (a teacher, then classic-car dealer, today
retired and living in Beckenham with his second wife
and their two children), and an Italian mother,
Maria Luisa (a classics teacher, also retired, who
lives alone in Rapallo). Her parents chose the name
Vanessa after seeing Vanessa Redgrave in Antonioni's
Blow-Up while Maria Luisa was pregnant.

Straight after Vanessa was born, the Beecrofts moved
to Holland Park, west London. When she was three,
her parents separated (Beecroft would not see her
father again until she was 15) and her younger
brother (currently training to be a judge in Italy)
was sent to live with Maria Luisa's parents in
Genoa. ('As of today, I still ask my mother why and
she says she couldn't take care of two children,'
Beecroft says.)

Vanessa and her mother moved to a tiny village,
Malcesine, on the slopes of Lake Garda. There, her
mother taught at a local school and kept an austere
house which included a strict macrobiotic diet.
Running an atheist, manless home, working full-time
and subscribing to far-left political ideals hardly
endeared Maria Luisa to her fiercely Catholic,
family-centric neighbours.

They called the Beecrofts 'the foreigners', treating
them with suspicion. Today, Beecroft is proud of her
mother, though, calling her a 'progressive feminist'.

'It was a very strange and primitive state of
living,' she explains. 'No phone, no TV, no car, no
meat. My mother was against modern society. She was
angry about everything - men, the Pope, religion,
meat. But she was not a hippy at all because she was
a well raised Italian woman.'

Her earliest memories are of running through fields
with boys and drawing pictures of her dolls. When
she was 11, her mother moved them to Santa
Margherita, a seaside town just along the Ligurian
coast from Portofino, so Vanessa could re-establish
contact with her brother (their father was in London
and she wouldn't see him again until she was 16,
when he dismissed her from his doorstep for being
'too intense').

'People were more spoiled,' she says. 'When we
arrived, I was wearing wooden shoes and they laughed
at me. That was difficult. But at school, I was good
at drawing. I saw a way of escaping in art, so I
decided to focus on studying.'

Her problems with food started with puberty. 'When I
was 12, I started to become a woman and my body
began to change. I was devastated because I couldn't
be a boy any more. I lost my boyish look. When I
started to become something else, I didn't know how
to keep it together. It was really painful - the
more you eat, the more like a woman you become.
That's when my obsession with food started. I felt
very alone, but now I see that every woman in my
family has an eating disorder.' At 14, she went to
art school in Genoa. In her spare time, she read
Vogue (her mother wouldn't let her read it at home),
visited galleries across Italy with her mother and
spent weekends with her best friends - three
aristocratic, anorexic sisters. She also started The
Book of Food. 'The anxiety of having eaten something
and having it inside and not knowing how big and how
much... I thought, "I'm going to write it down and
look at it and see if it's really so much. And one
day, I might give it to a doctor so they will
analyse if it's OK." But then it became an obsession
and I wrote down everything I ate. I would go all
day thinking, "I ate an apple at 12 o'clock, I must
write it down, I mustn't forget."'

Alongside food entries, she added comments like: 'I
am a pig', 'Slut', 'Terrible anxiety', 'Dogged
bulimia', 'I'm bursting', 'Apathy fear fatigue',
'Trying to vomit', 'Monster'. As The Book of Food
attests, things got worse. One day, in a fit of
despair, she ate a whole bag of walnuts, shells and
all, and had to be rushed into hospital and treated
for peritonitis. 'The doctor said, "What are you
eating?",' Beecroft says, with a sigh. 'I told him I
was eating walnuts, the whole thing, with the shell.
I was smashing them with a hammer and swallowing the
whole thing. I thought it would be purifying.' The
doctor referred her to a psychiatrist. 'He was a Red
Brigade,' Beecroft recalls, laughing. 'I loved
seeing him. But I had to leave because we couldn't
afford it. Instead I started to smoke cigarettes so
I would become skinny.'

When she was 18, she enrolled at Genoa's Accademia
Ligustica di Belle Arti Pittura, where, to
Beecroft's frustration, she was unable to make
herself throw up, unlike some girls there. 'Every
other girl could and I couldn't. I would try in the
bathroom with my head in the toilet for two hours
and eventually I'd start bleeding because I was
hurting myself and I got scared. My best friend
there used to be obese, and then she looked like a
model because she smoked cigarettes all day and
threw up, and I was so jealous.' Unhappy, she
transferred to the Brera Academy in Milan,
supporting herself by working as a live-in au pair.
Accepting that she couldn't throw up her food, she
started excessively exercising when the family was
out ('I would stay in my room and jump by myself and
write down: 30 minutes jumping, 50 minutes jumping,
in The Book of Food') and began colour-coding her
diet (a trick usually used by bulimics so they can
identify specific foods when they vomit that
Beecroft re-appropriated in a bid to turn herself
into one of her own sickly stick drawings).

'I thought that if I eat green, I will become green.
So, for a long time, I ate only green food. And then
orange food. And I was looking to my skin to become
more green if I ate spinach, or orange if I ate
carrots. I was trying to colour myself like in my
drawings. I wanted my skin to be transparent, and
the colours underneath orange and green and red.'
When she showed The Book of Food at Inga-Pin
Gallery, she closed the diary: 'The day I decided to
use The Book of Food as art was the day I stopped.'

Instead, now able to afford gym membership, she
binged on exercise - mostly aerobics and swimming.
The exercise brought relief and offered an antidote
to her problems. 'Instead of this food,' she
explains, 'instead of vomiting or doing what these
other girls were doing, if I exercised, life was
still worth living. I could go back to real life.
Because as soon as food would come in, I would start
to feel guilty, that I didn't deserve to eat. Why
should I eat? What should I eat? And the only way to
deal with this was to exercise.'

Beecroft's big break, the one that catapulted her on
to an international platform, came in 1995, when
influential New York art dealer Jeffrey Deitch saw a
photograph from VB09 in an art magazine. 'I saw a
tiny image of her work which was presented at a
gallery in Germany,' says Deitch. 'The image was
just so arresting, because it was a new kind of
reality that she had developed. It was not a
painting or a sculpture, it was not a normal
photograph, it was not just people sitting there in
real life. It was something in between. It was like
nothing I had ever seen before.'

Intrigued, he invited Beecroft to stage a
performance in January 1996 to open his new second
gallery, Deitch Projects. The result confirmed in
Deitch's mind that here was an entirely new artist
at work.

'Her work comes out very much from the tradition of
Italian painting and sculpture - Italian Mannerist
painting, Baroque painting, sculptors like Canova -
and the tradition of performance art: Duchamp, Yves
Klein, Gilbert and George. The foundations are
classical Italian tradition and the tradition of
radical performance art and live art. And then she's
also very much involved in something more
contemporary, this world of reality TV and fashion
shows. There's an awareness of contemporary culture
that's in the mix as well.'

He became her dealer and Beecroft moved from Milan
to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Nine years later, Deitch
has made a very tidy sum from selling Beecroft's
work to 'collectors of great works of pop, minimal
and conceptual art', and sees her as spearheading a
new wave of women's art.

'Vanessa's a new kind of woman artist,' he explains.
'Without question Vanessa is a feminist, but she's a
very contemporary kind of feminist. There's a new
group of women artists and Vanessa's in the
vanguard, and I would also add Cecily Brown and
Pipilotti Rist, where the women are using sexual
imagery from a very powerful, very feminine point of
view, and it's a kind of powerful sexual imagery
that can even intimidate the male. If one is present
at a Vanessa Beecroft performance, they are not
erotic. You feel the power of the women's presence.
It is an intimidating image.'

After marrying Greg Durkin in Portofino in September
2000 (the wedding was turned into a special project
entitled VBGD - the couple's initials), Beecroft
spent most of 2001 pregnant.

'I'm on Zoloft [an antidepressant], the only drug
you can take when you nurse, a very little dosage,
very small,' she explains, rubbing her heavily
tattooed arms. 'It makes you numb, I kind of like it
actually. But when I am not, oh my God. I stopped
when I got pregnant with Dean and I got crazy again
- the police arrived one night because I was
breaking the car.'

This wasn't the only time her husband Greg called
the police during this era. The second time was in
autumn 2001 when the couple got into another
ferocious fight, at a hotel in Los Angeles. Beecroft
was handcuffed by LAPD officers and only released
when she calmed down. Once she had given birth to
Dean, her psychiatrist put her back on Zoloft.

'I take it to keep the family in peace,' she
whispers, as if telling me a secret.

'I have to become numb or otherwise I become too
much. I was raised by my mother throwing plates
everywhere - tomatoes, plates - and everything was
destroyed and then she'd cry a little bit and then
it would stop. I thought it was normal to destroy
the house. So I take Zoloft for the children, but
also to survive. I am so high maintenance!'

We are interrupted by Dean, who joins us, doe-eyed,
wanting to blow out the candle flickering on the
table between us. It's getting dark. I tell her I
should get going. 'Do you have anything to eat on
the train?' she wants to know. When I say no, she
hurries to the kitchen and starts to make me a
picnic. On the train, heading back to Manhattan,
hungry, I open the plastic bag and find inside two
apples, two sachets of Yogi Tea, peanuts, each
carefully, individually wrapped.

As I bite into a green apple, I try to make sense of
all the contradictions surrounding Beecroft: she's a
doting mother with a nine-to-five husband who calls
herself a feminist; she considers her performances
self-portraits but rarely appears in them herself;
she is supported by powerful fashion figures yet
claims not to follow fashion; she's plagued by
eating disorders but doesn't care to label herself
bulimic or anorexic; she's obsessed with control yet
surrounded by powerful people; she's very much an
artist of the moment but isn't interested in any
contemporary art after the abstract expressionists;
she's happy to put naked women on public display but
finds being photographed herself agonising.

Her work is no less contradictory and that's why she
is so successful, so on the pulse. It's the perfect
product of a time when we claim to despise reality
TV but secretly watch it; fear globalisation but
cherish that Starbucks latte; see the vapidity of
fashion but save up for a Prada jacket; bemoan our
celebrity-fixated culture while tuning in to see
that exclusive Madonna interview. As a culture right
now, we're a mass of contradictions and, like all
great art, Vanessa Beecroft's performances beam that
uncomfortable truth right back at us.

� Vanessa Beecroft's VB55 will be staged at the Neue
Nationalgalerie in Berlin on 8 April

February 24, 2005

The Theory That Self-Interest Is the Sole Motivator Is Self-Fulfilling

A good NY Times article on a very interesting topic...

February 23, 2005

How to Good-Bye Depression: If You Constrict Anus 100 Times Everyday. Malarkey? or Effective Way?

Why didn't I ever think of this? Stupid, stupid me! Well I'm giving it a go and so far so good and constricted! 34, 35, 36...

Only 1 left in stock!!! Who'll be the lucky depressed friend to receive your your LOL/insensitive gift?!

howtogoodbyedepression.jpg

and yes, of course, this is a Japanese creation.

February 3, 2005

Warren Buffet Wisdom

I love, love love this.

A Blogger learns from Warren Buffet.

via Kottke.org.

January 26, 2005

Intelligence in men and women is a gray and white matter

Women and men use their brains in different ways.

January 25, 2005

This is a sick fantasy of mine...never needing to sleep

A Ukranian man hasn't slept a wink in 20 yearz zzz zz...

September 15, 2004

100 Photos that Changed the World

100 Photos that Changed the World by LIFE Magazine

via kottke.org

July 23, 2004

British Binge Drinking Ladies

This picture is hilarious.

It accompanied a NYTimes article yesterday about the troubling state of drinking in England.

Notice her feet:

binge.184.1.jpg

July 21, 2004

What really happened on Flight 327?

You have to read this account of a passenger on Flight 327 and tell me:

What would you do? How would you feel?

Because I'd be calm as a screaming maniac.

June 29, 2004

$5 / 5 min Online Personality Test

Just took the test and it confirmed what I guessed.

I'm an ENFP. What are you?

If you're a fellow ENFP, described as The Inspirer type (wishing that were The Inspired type) you may find these interesting:

Portrait of an ENFP

Careers for ENFP

ENFP Relationships

ENFP Personal Growth

April 16, 2004

Hug a friend today...if you wanna live.

Confucious say...Close Relationship Helps Heart.

March 5, 2004

Japan puts robots to work

Interesting article in today's New York Times: Japan Seeks Robotic Help in Caring for the Aged

Here's a happy lady gettin' scrubbed down by a bot!
robotbath2.jpg

This is what we have to look forward to, my friends! Good Times!

February 25, 2004

Petals Around the Rose

This game RULZ. See if you can figure it out!

petalsaroundtherose.jpg

They give you only two clues but since it took me longer to figure it out than I am proud to say, I will give you a third clue that doesn't compromise the integrity of this game: This can be played with five actual dice with the dice landing in no particular order so you don't need to be stumped by the linear placement of the dice on the screen.

Also, there's a story on the site about Bill Gates' brush with the game which is pretty interesting.

Remember: Once you figure it out you can't divulge the secret! You must simply take comfort in knowing that you are part of a club as exclusive as the Skull & Bones Society. It's just you, me, Bill Gates and everyone else...yeah, baby.

December 11, 2003

Breaking News: Poor People Pretty Much Fucked

Thanks to the Onion's fine reportage, we now know:

Poor People Pretty Much Fucked

Video projects



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