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.


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 FastFoodForward.org, 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 Salon.com 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.


When it comes to psychological health, management just doesn't get it.

When it comes to the psychological and mental health of workers,  managers tend to think they are doing everything right.  Employees would typically beg to differ.  

That is the implication of a new study released by the Canadian Conference Board and  reported in the Canadian press (see source note caveat below). The report title was:  Building Mentally Healthy Workplaces. 

I haven't read the full report,*  but the data look good.  They surveyed over a thousand people and did a fair number of in-depth interviews.  They surveyed almost 500 executive managers and slightly more workers.

Here is the big finding:  while 82% of managers said that their company "promotes" a psychologically healthy workplace,  70% of workers said they didn't.  

It's a huge disconnect in perceptions,  and it makes you wonder if management ever really "gets it." 


The DSM: more like the Boy Scout Handbook than the Bible

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is being revised.  Often described as the psychiatric bible,  there are plans for the DSM to be released in a 5th Edition.  It is a work in progress.

Naturally,  people ask: "if it's like a bible,  why would it need to be revised?"   And then they wonder:  "Am I suddenly going to be cured or suddenly declared mentally ill?"


Why are we so fascinated with murder?

The public is endlessly fascinated with murder.  When it’s on the news,  we may recoil in shock and horror,  but often and in other media,  homicide is a source of entertainment.   We wonder why people kill and we are intrigued by the ways in which the deed is accomplished.

In the real world,  there is in fact a practical duty we share in understanding the means and the motivations for crime.  Understanding is necessary for prediction,  prevention and protection.
But the popular fascination with homicide goes far beyond the practical.  The story lines are a staple of art and literature and a subject for both drama and comedy.  The murder mystery is often most compelling when it abandons reality and is framed in fantasy.


The campus safety threat they don't tell you about

Colleges and Universities are required by law (the Clery Act) to disclose campus security policies and crime statistics. This information may provide parents with some measure of comfort when sending children off to college, but knowing the odds of your child becoming a crime statistic does not mean you should assume that your child is safe. Hazards still remain, and as I have argued in my comments about "helicopter parents," as a parent you need to help your child understand and cope with the risks. 

More than 25% of students drop out before completing their freshman year in college. Stress and depression are common reasons.

A young college student will be confronted by many stress factors. Many of these actually represent challenges to be faced.

But there are two stress factors that are matters of safety and not just something for a young adult to deal with on their own:  sexual harassment and bullying.