27 psychiatrists fail to answer the baseline question: is Donald Trump a moron?

Book review (originally published at Amazon):

It turns out that the 27 psychiatrists and other experts represented in this collection of essays did not produce any consensus opinion or “assessment” of Donald Trump’s mental health. Instead, they have shared individual perspectives, integrated primarily around the alarm, distress, disgust, angst, fear (and loathing) they all seem to feel in reaction to the President.

To the extent that a unified psychological profile emerges from these essays, the formulation is lacking any comment on the President’s intelligence - a foundational psychodiagnostic measurement. From a clinical perspective, nothing about his behavior should be interpreted without first answering the baseline question: is Donald Trump a moron?

The experts here are silent on the intelligence question.

Psychiatrist David M. Reiss identified “innate, baseline, intellectual/cognitive skills and ability” as one of five areas of concern regarding “the cognitive abilities of a POTUS.” He concluded, however, that no standards exist for measuring the I.Q. of a politician, and therefore, when it comes to this question, differentiating objective opinion “versus politically based propaganda is an insurmountable problem.”

A concern about an appearance of bias did not stop the other essayists from outlining the now-familiar contours of Trump’s personality type and temperament.

The standard observation is that Trump presents with narcissism. In Part 1 (“The Trump Phenomenon”), the authors effectively discuss related personality theory and research, along with the traits, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors typical of this type of character pathology.

The text demonstrates that narcissism is an operative psychological construct, independent of the formal diagnostic (DSM-5.0) criteria. A character “disorder” is rooted in personality style. It is not a psychiatric “illness.”

Criminal forensic psychologists (such as myself) tend to view narcissism and sociopathy as two sides of the same coin. In his essay, psychologist Craig Malkin makes the point that pathological narcissism is derived from a sense of entitlement, a willingness to exploit others, and an impaired sense of empathy - which is what we often say about psychopaths. Psychologist John Gartner notes that in the classic analytic formulation, the narcissistic syndrome includes: antisocial behavior, paranoid traits, grandiosity, and sadism (i.e., aggressively domineering behavior punctuated by “joyful cruelty,” otherwise known as bullying).

While a number of the authors bandied about words that are associated with different forms of mental “illness,” this remains primarily a discussion about character and personality type.

With respect to whether Trump might display mood disorder, Gartner provides a note of caution about overdiagnosis. As he explains, a “hypomanic temperament” (i.e., high energy) is not the same as clinical hypomania and does not necessarily involve a bipolar diathesis. With respect to whether Trump displays any signs of thought disorder (i.e., actual psychosis or “craziness”), psychologist Michael Tansey presented “delusional disorder” as an explanation for why Trump believes so many things that are not true, despite the available evidence.

The failure to provide a baseline intelligence estimate was particularly obvious in Tansey’s essay about delusions and psychosis. 

Tansey cites a series of fact-challenged and nonsensical tweets about being wiretapped by Barack Obama as “the most jarring evidence” of Trump’s ostensible psychosis. Critics observed that it was foolish for the President to make such accusations without any proof. Tansey put two and two together and said that the tweets represented “paranoid delusions.”

The interpretation is quite different when I.Q. is factored into the equation. If the tweets were foolish, why not simply conclude that they were produced by a fool? This is a common question in trial competency evaluations: is a defendant exercising bad judgment because mental disorder has deprived them of reason, or are they just being stupid?

The best estimate of any random person’s IQ is the “measure of central tendency” - the norm or the average. To say that someone is above or below average requires additional observations or evidence. Other than his own testimony (e.g., “trust me, I’m like a smart person”), there seems to be no evidence that Trump’s IQ is any greater than the mean.

During the time he has consumed our attention, Trump has provided few, if any, examples of advanced vocabulary development. He has not demonstrated facility in the comprehension of complex social issues, and he has not performed any notable feats of good judgment relative to practical matters. There seems to be no evidence that he is adept at abstract reasoning, or that he is skilled in associational tasks such as the use of metaphor and analogy.

The public record is bereft of any samples of Trump’s written scholarship (aside from a character-limited stream of consciousness). There are no signs of his having any intellectual curiosity and there is no record of his having mastery over any particular body of knowledge. Rather than displaying intellectual discipline, we have seen that his mind is a place where reality is fluid and “alternative facts” are abundant.

In this book, observations about Trump’s intellect (or lack thereof) are conspicuously absent. These authors, like many, are astounded by the President’s attitudes and behavior, and assume that there must be some distinctly psychiatric underlay. But with each example, there is a question they failed to ask: what if he really is just that dumb?

Salesmanship and self promotion are talents well within the reach of many stupid narcissists, as well as sociopaths of average IQ. Success in these endeavors is not evidence of genius. The Presidency, however, does require a thoughtful, reflective, informed and orderly mind. It requires wisdom and intellect far above the norm.

A person of modest intellect might appear to be “a genius” in one context, while looking like quite the “moron” in another. Doubts about Trump’s intellect have been heard enough times from within his inner circle. Perhaps the 27 psychiatrists could have given that a bit more consideration.

Copyright, Paul G. Mattiuzzi, Ph.D.


Expert opinion: Donald Trump does not have a personality disorder

Special to The Bee

Personality and character are always at issue in a presidential election, as is the sanity of the candidates. When a contender is referred to as a madman or lunatic, the comment is usually understood to be hyperbole.
No one has accused Donald Trump of hearing voices or howling at the moon. However, many have called him a narcissist.

I have qualified in court as an expert in the psychodiagnostic arts. In prisons and in jails, I commonly encounter narcissists, owing to the fact that clinical narcissism is a core component of the psychopathic mind and sociopathic character.
As an expert in diagnosing disturbances of mind, emotion and character, I can state confidently that Donald Trump does not have narcissistic personality disorder – a condition listed in the psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.


The "Too Good Be True Test" is a Worthless Aphorism

When it comes to avoiding scams, schemes and other rip-offs, there is no more universal piece of advice than: "if it's too good to be true it probably isn't." This is usually said after someone has been victimized.

Most everyone is familiar with this pithy observation - an aphorism with a ring of truth to it - but it is familiar only because the warning so persistently fails to prevent people from jumping into the quicksand.

In hindsight, it is easy to see that relative to the cost and risk involved, the expected gain was unrealistic. In the rear view mirror, it is obvious that the promises were extravagant, false and empty.

To know whether something is true and to be trusted, we are told that all you have to do is measure how good it is.

The problem is that "goodness" is not a valid or reliable measure of truth. 


Do Psychopaths Genuinely Lack Empathy, Or Are They Feeling You?

The most common observation made about psychopaths is that they feel no empathy. I have said it myself in Courtroom testimony, repeating a truism I picked up years ago: "they fail to empathize and are therefore prone to victimize."


Psychopath or Sociopath? It Makes no Difference What you Call Them

Originally published at The Huffington Post.

From the earliest days in my career as a criminal forensic psychologist, I have encountered treatises and learned discussions about the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths. Still, to this day, I have never had reason to use the terms, other as than as synonyms.


The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015) Movie Trailer: An Allegory for the APA Ethics-Torture Fiasco

The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015) Movie Trailer: An Allegory ...

Originally published at The Huffington Post-Jul 30, 2015

On July 10, 2015, the American Psychological Association (APA) released The Hoffman Report, an independent investigation into the ethics and behavior of psychologists and the Association, relative to the Bush-era CIA "torture" experiments.
A week later, by coincidence, director Kyle Patrick Alvarez's film The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015) was released in theaters. The movie is billed as an accurate portrayal of a famous 1971 research project that was conceived and overseen by Stanford psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo.


4 Fs of Stress: Beyond Fight or Flight

Originally published at The Huffington Post

The "fight or flight response" is routinely invoked as a shorthand way of explaining that psychological stress involves activation of the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system. Too often, the explanation ends there, with the implication that this form of arousal is a bad thing.


Meaning and Purpose in Life: Commonplace or Hard to Come By?

Originally published at the Huffington Post.

In all cultures and at all times, humans have sought to make sense of their existence. Man's search for meaning is a quest as ancient as the dawn of human consciousness.

For at least 100,000 years, humans have buried the dead with rituals and with artifacts, apparently believing that life involves something more than just running from the lion, hunting, gathering, and mating.
It is well established that a sense of purpose is necessary for psychological health, and in turn, for human adaptation and survival. If life did not seem worth it, our ancestors may have given up on running from the lion. If depressed, they may have been less enthusiastic about mating.

Pouring Salt on the Wound: Psychologists Identify the Effects of 'Institutional Betrayal'

Originally published at the Huffington Post.

Women exposed to sexual assault in the military suffer more trauma-related symptoms than female veterans sexually assaulted in civilian life. Children abused only in residential care settings are more likely to have difficulties as adults than children who were abused only at home.
Those are the findings from two studies that have helped define the role of "institutional betrayal" in the experience of traumatic stress.
Summarizing the literature in the September edition of the American Psychologist(the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association), Carly Parnitze Smith and Jennifer J. Freyd state conclusively that institutional attitudes, priorities and behaviors significantly influence the development of post-traumatic distress.


Rock star professor or memory magician? Perhaps you recall.

This is a slightly longer version of an article originally published at the Huffington Post ... the last four paragraphs were cut by the editor. I think this version has a better ending.

The submission to HuffPo was invited - it was to provide accompaniment for a HuffPost TED Weekend video featuring Loftus ("Why Your Memories Can't Be Trusted").

Elizabeth Loftus spoke at a forensic mental health conference in Monterey last year.  

I walked in, saw two “early career” colleagues in the front row seats I coveted, and asked, “Are you here for Loftus?”

They both nodded eagerly.  

I said, “So, you must know she’s a rock star.”  

They both nodded eagerly again.  

In fact, Professor Loftus is like a rock star among psychologists:  great teacher, renowned mentor, brilliant scientist, and in the real world outside academia (where I work), she is a most distinguished professional. That is all well-known and is really no more surprising than finding out that Mick Jagger also plays the piano.  It takes more than that to be admired among scholars, and magic helps.


Zero Tolerance Policies Gone Wild!

A teenager in Montgomery County Tennessee has become the new poster-boy for a continuing news drama that should perhaps be called:  Zero Tolerance Policies Gone Wild!

Apparently, the aspiring college applicant and ROTC candidate did not know that the truck he drove to school one morning carried a tool commonly used by fishermen (i.e., a knife) - a tool that can be repurposed for use as a weapon.  The young man is being sent to the "alternative" high school program and is now facing criminal charges in Juvenile Court.

Meanwhile in Florida, legislation is advancing that would prevent school districts from punishing students for "brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food item to simulate a firearm or weapon." It is called the Pop-Tart Bill.  After it passes, the law will probably need to be amended to include food items that can be used to simulate a weapon without first being partially consumed (Banana used as gun in holdup, then eaten).

When it becomes necessary for a legislature to carve out an exception for food items that might appear dangerous, it is clear that zero-tolerance policies are a failed social experiment.

The experts have weighed in on the question, and so has the Obama Administration.


McDonalds Mocked for Remarkable Stress Hormone Discovery?

Banksy gives foot massage 
to relieve an executive's stress. 

New York City minimum wage workers have organized at, thinking that McDonalds is going to give them a raise. They are just poor people complaining about poverty, so to get attention, these activists decided to mock McDonalds. It’s not rocket science and the company is fair game. 

The headlines at caught my eye: McDonalds tells workers to ‘sing away stress’ and ‘chew away cares’ … Stress hormone levels rise by 15% after ten minutes of complaining … giant corporation warns employees.


Aaron Antonovsky's insight on observing Holocaust survivors.

An interview I gave to the Sacramento Bee was published this morning.  I was asked about the escape of Amanda Berry with her child, and the rescue of two other women after years being caged in a house in Cleveland by a sadist.

When interviewed,  I discussed an observation about Holocaust survivors that was made by the late Aaron Antonovsky,  an American-born medical sociologist (doctorate from Yale) who made his career at the Israel Institute for Applied Social Research in Jerusalem.

Antonovsky is not as well known as he should be.  To the extent that he is known,  it is for "a theory" that he called the sense of coherence and a term he coined:  salutogenesis.  


What is workplace retaliation? It's about making people afraid.

What is workplace retaliation?

It is not what most people think it is.

Retaliation is not the same as harassment or “hostilte workplace,” and it is not about people getting revenge or “getting back" at anyone.

Retaliation is about making people afraid to complain or to assert their rights.  It is a subtle, but important distinction.


"A Yale Psychologist Calls for the End of Individual Psychotherapy?" Did I read that correctly?

Here's the back story:  a famous,  well-respected psychologist writes a hugely complex journal article and then gives an interview to TIME Healthland online.  The interview is as confusing as the journal article,  and great controversy ensues in the profession.

Are people being mislead and confused?  Are they being harmed?  Does he have a valid point?


When Leadership Fails: What seems to be the problem at Sacramento State?

In the past few years, Sac State has spent and wasted well over one million dollars on lawsuits that could easily have been avoided. These are text book examples of what it costs when management ignores workplace harassment. It’s a text book example of what happens when leadership fails.