Raj Persaud in conversation - the podcasts
Virtual Reality Therapy. Will Virtual Reality replace therapists? Raj Persaud talks to Leanne Casey and Wesley Turner

Will therapists be replaced by Virtual Reality Technology? Psychiatrist Raj Persaud talks to psychologists Wesley Turner and Leanne Casey from Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia who have just published an analysis of how effective the latest Virtual Reality psychological treatments are.


Their study is entitled 'Outcomes associated with virtual reality in psychological interventions: where are we now?' and is published in the academic journal Clinical Psychology Review (Volume 34, Issue 8, December 2014, Pages 634–644)


If you are a professional and interested in further information on CPD Online or wish to earn CPD credit points, particularly from listening to this podcast, please visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD Online website for further information at www.psychiatrycpd.co.uk

After listening to this podcast if you go to the College site and answer the mcq questions there about the interview, you can obtain on line CPD points.






A recent article on other ways new technology is changing psychiatry and psychology:



Does Brain Scanning Research Reveal Your Real Religious Belief - More Than Church Attendance?



A new brain scanning study has found that high personal importance of religion or spirituality in your life is associated with thicker cortex in several brain regions.


Some of these same regions were found to be associated with a higher risk for developing clinical depression, if that part of the brain cortex was thinner.


The study, entitled, Neuroanatomical Correlates of Religiosity and Spirituality - A Study in Adults at High and Low Familial Risk for Depression, concludes that a higher importance of religion or spirituality was associated with thicker cortex in certain brain regions, possibly conferring greater resilience to the development of depressive illnesses.


The study, published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association - Psychiatry, focused on those with a high or low familial risk for developing clinical depression, because of a previously strong family history of this psychiatric diagnosis.


The team of academics who conducted this Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) study, led by Dr Myrna Weissman, from Columbia University, argue that this brain finding could account for why being religious or spiritual, in certain circumstances, might contribute to improved resilience to depressive psychiatric illnesses.


Being religious or spiritual, possibly by expanding a physical brain reserve, counters to some extent the vulnerability that brain thinning in those areas poses for developing depression that runs in families.


For those attending church services this Easter weekend it may be surprising that the study found it was the personal importance of religion or spirituality in your life, but not the frequency of attendance of church, that was associated with thicker brain areas. In a sense the brain scans revealed your true faith more than church attendance did.


The same team had previously reported a 90% decreased risk, assessed over a 10-year period, of developing clinical depressive disorder in those from families where there was a high incidence of depression, if religion or spirituality was highly important to the adult studied.


Several others studies have found that intensity of religious experiences is associated with increased blood flow in similar brain regions found to be structurally thicker in this study.


The authors of this new study, Lisa Miller, Ravi Bansal, Priya Wickramaratne, Xuejun Hao, Craig Tenke, Myrna Weissman and Bradley Peterson, found that, oddly, a high frequency of attendance of religious services was not associated with brain thickness, yet rating religion or spirituality as personally important in your life was.


This appears a paradox - people who go to church a lot were not reaping the same benefit in their brains, in terms of protecting from depression, as those who believed that religion or spirituality was important to them.


The authors point out that although some may go to church in order to promote their spirituality, others may attend whether or not religion is genuinely personally important to them. In this study 49 participants reported high church attendance, yet only 21 of those also reported high importance of religion or spirituality in their lives. The remaining 28 participants may be attending services for a host of non-religious reasons, which may include social support. 


This research found that the participants who frequently attended religious services were in fact at increased risk of depression, suggesting that a subset of participants may attend religious services for comfort or management of depressive symptoms.


Although frequent attendance may express, sustain, and cultivate personal importance of religion or spirituality, these findings suggest that religious beliefs and experiences, and not overt behavior (such as attending church a lot), are associated with brain thickness.


That going to church might not be the key to the protective effect of religion or spirituality on those predisposed to depression, through a high risk family history, is further bolstered, according to Myrna Weissman and her colleagues, by other recent research. For example, those who regularly meditate also have certain thicker brain regions. Another recent study found that meditation training for eight weeks increased cerebral gray matter density in specific brain areas.


The authors of this study, from Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, are not claiming that religion or spirituality generally protects you from depression. Instead, they are suggesting that if you consider that religion or spirituality in your life are important, then that appears to confer a neuroanatomical resilience. And that is in those who otherwise are predisposed to developing depressive illness, due to a strong family history for this kind of psychiatric problem.


Previously, we reported some other new research, from a team of academics led by Professor Michael King from University College London, where over 8,000 people were investigated, revealing that those who held a religious or spiritual understanding of life, had a higher incidence of depression compared with those with a secular life view.


Entitled Spiritual and religious beliefs as risk factors for the onset of major depression: an international cohort study, the investigation had been published in one of the most respected academic psychiatric journals, Psychological Medicine.


Perhaps one way of resolving the differing results is that the Psychological Medicinestudy was conducted on populations outside the USA - in the UK, Spain, Slovenia, Estonia, the Netherlands, Portugal and Chile. It could be that how important religion is in your country and culture, as well as the particular population studied, also has an impact on your brain and psychology.


Generally speaking Europeans are perceived as less religious than North Americans.

In the Psychological Medicine study, their findings varied by country; in particular, people in the UK who had a spiritual understanding of life were the most vulnerable to the onset of major depression. Yet, regardless of country, the stronger the spiritual or religious belief at the start of the investigation, the higher the risk of onset of depression over the next year.


In the specific situation of where you inherit a brain that might be predisposed to developing depression, it appears that higher importance of religion or spirituality in your life, perhaps in the USA at least, could be protective. It is also notable that the more recent brain scanning study found it was sustained interest in religion or spirituality, over a longer period, which was most strongly associated with thicker brain structures, rather than reporting a high level of spirituality at only one point in time.


However, given the not dissimilar findings on the brain effects of meditation, whether these structural brain changes and protective effect of religion or spirituality, are something specific to beliefs in God, is open to question.


Science is revealing that merely attending religious services may not deliver brain or mental health benefits, instead these appear linked to what you really believe.


Neuroscientists might now be able to tell, by examining your nervous system using the latest brain scanning technology, what you really believe, in the inner depths of your 'soul', but which you keep hidden from the rest of the congregation.


A private inner space that was supposedly only before accessible to God?




Raj Persaud is joint podcast editor for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and also now has a free app on iTunes and google play store entitled 'Raj Persaud in conversation', which includes a lot of free information on the latest research findings in mental health, plus interviews with top experts from around the world.

Download it free from these links:




The police use of tasers - discussion between firearms police officers and Raj Persaud

Most people tend to become compliant when ordered to do so by a police officer in a high-stakes type of predicament. But perhaps those suffering severe mental illnesses are more likely to be non-compliant - maybe due to decreased awareness of what is going on around them? Could this explain the seemingly apparent proneness for tasers to be used by the police in these predicaments? Dr Raj Persaud - consultant psychiatrist - discusses the way the metropolitan police use tasers with police officers Matthew Fox and Adam Smith of the Specialist Firearms Command.


If you are interested in further information on CPD Online or wish to earn CPD credit points, please visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD Online website for further information at www.psychiatrycpd.co.uk


Check out the taser website for the metropolitan police: 





A Taser is a non-lethal single shot weapon used by MPS officers to temporarily incapacitate a suspect through the use of an electrical current. It is a hand-held weapon similar in shape and size to a pistol, but is bright yellow and black in colour.







Welcome to the Taser site

Welcome to the Taser website. I’m Dave Musker, Commander in charge of armed policing and Taser within the Metropolitan Police.

Taser has been available in the UK since 2003 and is probably one of the most discussed and controversial topics on the use of force agenda. It is with this in mind that I think its essential we provide as much information we can regarding Taser through all forms of media and this website.

The Metropolitan Police has acknowledged the controversy surrounding Taser and have implemented a raft of measures to ensure we get it right. I believe we have the best training in the world with extremely robust policies and procedures to manage the day-to-day operational deployment of the device.

Whilst we are confident we have such comprehensive procedures in place, we are not complacent and we have a dedicated team of officers who continually review what we do and how we do it. I am also keen to continue to engage with all communities and interested parties in London as this will help us to understand the concerns that are out there and deal with any emerging issues.

We have formed a Taser Reference Group with a wide, independent and constructively critical membership to help me oversee the use of taser in London - see related link within Professional training and scrutiny section.

I would also like to point you in the direction of some interesting documents and pages in this website. You will find a recent document published by the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee called ‘Arming the Met’ - see related documents.   We are engaging with the committee to ensure we meet, discuss and address the recommendations within. We are grateful to the Committee for their suggestions which are constructive and provide a good direction for the MPS to follow.

The College of Policing website, which details how police officers across the UK are trained is also a valuable source of information - see related link for College of Policing website.

Raj Persaud is joint podcast editor for the Royal College of Psychiatrists - you can listen to this conversation and others with a new free app on iTunes and Google Play Store entitled 'Raj Persaud in conversation', which includes a lot of free information on the latest research findings in mental health, plus interviews with top experts from around the world.

Download it free from these links:









Does The Great Train Robbery Explain How Villains Became the New Heroes?


The anniversary of the Great Train Robbery is being marked in various ways - The Times newspaper reports that a Monopoly set, played by the Great Train Robbers using real cash, while they eluded capture by hiding on a farm, has turned up on the TV programme Antiques Roadshow. Apparently, The Times reports, it was fingerprints on this board game, which later helped convict the gang.

That such an item could become revered, might be part of a modern glamorisation of villainy. Ronnie Biggs and fellow gang members began to be portrayed as romanticised folk heroes. Was the Great Train Robbery the beginning of a process which lead to popular TV series such as The Sopranos and Dexter, where hero and villain often appear inverted?

If heroes were supposed to be moral enough to still do the right thing, despite facing difficult predicaments, does the modern transformation of criminal to hero reveal something deeply troubling about our era?

Psychologist Derek Rohleder has published a dissertation entitled The shadow as hero in American culture: A Jungian analysis of the villain archetype transformed.His thesis is that in modern popular culture the villain has frequently been transformed into a heroic figure. Dr Rohleder uses examples including Hannibal Lecter the cannibal psychiatrist who has become the 'hero' of blockbuster movies including The Silence of the Lambs.

The 'rogue' or 'rebel' has long been a key element of heroic character in fiction and real life, perhaps part of the confusion here is that we assume the outlaw is naturally an underdog.

George Goethals and Scott Allison from the University of Richmond, Virginia, USA, in their analysis of who the public regards as heroic, have found that a key ingredient is the notion of the underdog. In a paper entitled Making Heroes: The Construction of Courage, Competence and Virtue, they state how they found people root for, identify with, and are most fond of, underdogs. Those who must struggle to achieve their objectives.

Their paper published in the journal Advances in Experimental Social Psychologyexplains that this liking and rooting for perceived underdogs, is so deep-rooted, it even holds for inanimate objects, whose movements on a computer screen activate scripts of struggle and effort against more powerful rivals.

They discovered in their own surveys of the public that when asked if they had any heroes, 95% listed at least two heroes, and two-thirds listed six or more in just a few minutes. Roughly a third of heroes, from this research, are family members, a third are real public figures, but the last third are fictional, often from TV and film.

This indicates the media representation of heroic status is extremely important.

Political strategists now make a standard attempt to cast even the most wealthy, institutionalised candidates as actually battling rebels, fearlessly taking on vested interests.

Our deep psychological needs for heroic individuals to idolise, who triumph over adversity, is revealed by the structure of modern popular stories in fiction and film. It's never 'systems' or 'committees' which ride out of the sunset, to the rescue of those in distress, but instead it's the rebel loner.

Disobedience and defiance are also deliciously childish pleasures, which the Freudians would probably contend are part of the romantic allure of those who disregard rules.

Modern cynicism about our rulers is revealed in anti-heroes who dissent and refuse to follow edicts.

The rise of the vigilante hero - who takes the law into their own hands and meters out justice themselves, without waiting for due process to creak into action, also reveals a lack of faith in 'the system' to see injustice is punished.

But the reality of criminals, beneath the veneer of glamour which Hollywood and paperback fiction likes to gloss over them, is that these are often the immature and inadequate who want to take short-cuts.

They yearn for comfort and luxury without sweating through hard work or delaying gratification required by scrimping and saving. There is a part in all of us who is attracted to the short cut, which might partly explain the allure of the criminal as hero. It's the same draw as 'get rich quick' schemes.

However, Hollywood blockbusters today depict heists of labyrinthine complexity, requiring such complex skills and hard work from the heroic con artist or criminal, one wonders why they didn't just get a high paying job that rewarded them legitimately for their breath-taking sophistication.

Instead, the plots require us to believe that being an outlaw, dodging and diving outside the system, might be an inherently preferable. The villain as hero is also more free than the law-abiding rest of us, they don't care what others think of them and this liberty from constraint or judgement suggests they possess an independence of spirit, the rest of us crave.

The irony is that in pursuing this supposed self-determination, the criminal ends up behind bars. How free is a fugitive anyway - someone who has to keep looking behind his shoulder?

But the recent inversion of criminal and hero is important if the heroic are vital in guiding and inspiring us. Should our idols become those who are self-indulgent and selfish, we should beware. True heroes are those who make huge personal sacrifices for noble causes.

In the film Casablanca, at first it seems that Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, will not assist the Allied war cause. He famously declares "I stick my neck out for nobody" and "I'm the only cause I'm interested in". He appears the archetypal anti-hero, sulky, self-centred and running what appears to be a shady night-club.

But in the climax of the story, he makes huge personal sacrifices for someone he loves, and the Allied side.

It's psychologically intriguing that for Bogart to play one of the greatest cinematic heroes of our time, he has to at first appear bitter, selfish, dodgy.

The danger is, if we get confused over who are true heroes, as opposed to those who just look rebellious, dangerous and glamorous, we will lose out on truly inspiring figures.

We will end up being robbed.

Direct download: DR-100_0066.mp3
Category:(2) General Podcasts -- posted at: 6:21pm UTC

The funny die first. Why do the funniest comedians die first? Dr Gil Greengross discusses with Raj Persaud

Raj Persaud discusses new research on the mortality of comedians with Dr. Gil Greengross an evolutionary psychologist and anthropologist at Concordia University in Montreal and formerly at the University of New Mexico. His interdisciplinary research bridges traditional fields of study such as psychology, anthropology and biology, and his studies focus on the adaptive value of humor and laughter, mainly in the context of sexual selection and mating.


Dr. Greengross is also fascinated by the life and personalities of stand-up comedians as we can learn a lot from people who have extreme humor ability.


Dr. Greengross won the 2007 Graduate Student Award at the International Society for Humor Studies conference and was invited to give two lectures at the International Summer School and Symposium on Humor and Laughter. He has also designed and taught several popular college level classes on the psychology of humor.


Dr Raj Persaud is now joint podcast editor for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and also now has a free app on iTunes and google play store entitled 'Raj Persaud in conversation', which includes a lot of free information on the latest research findings in mental health, plus interviews with top experts from around the world. You can hear this interview on the app and read the article below on this subject.


Download it free from these links:






Why the funniest comedians die first


Raj Persaud and Professor Adrian Furnham




A study about to be published in the ‘International Journal of Cardiology’ has found that the funniest comedians suffer dramatically reduced longevity, compared to their relatively less funny counterparts.


The research, from the Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia, analysed the life span of 53 male British comedians born between 1900 and 1954. A key finding is that the higher the score by which the comedian was rated as funny, also the higher the mortality rate. 

The Psychology of Comedians

Of the 23 ‘very funny’ comedians, 78% had died, versus 40% of the rest. Average age at death for the comedians adjudged as ‘very funny’ was 63.3 years old versus 72.3 for the rest.


Those working in comedy duos (e.g. Morecambe and Wise) or teams (e.g. Monty Python) were also designated, for the purposes of this research, as the “funny” or “straight” man in that comedy team.


Within comedy teams, those identified as the funnier member(s) of the partnership were more than three times more likely to die prematurely when compared to their more serious comedy partners. 


Examples that bear out this newly established macabre law that the funny man in a comedy team always dies first, include Ernie Wise being the straighter comedian in the duo, living to 73, while his funnier partner, Eric Morecambe died at 58. Ronnie Barker died at 76 while his straight man Ronnie Corbett is still alive and now past 84 years old.


Graham Chapman died at 48, while all the other original members of the Monty Python comedy team, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones remain alive, yet it is widely understood that Chapman was the most surreal, or the funniest, of this uniquely surreal comedy team. 


For example, perhaps the most famous Monty Python sketch of all, the ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch started off being written by John Cleese as about a man returning a toaster, and it is reported that it was Chapman who inspired the idea it should be about the attempt to return a dead parrot.


The findings of this study are particularly intriguing because, consistent with the inherent nature of comedy tandems and teams, individual members were predominantly born around the same time, and come from the same social class and economic background.  


The authors of the study, Dr Simon Stewart and Dr David Thompson, conclude that elite comedians are at increased risk of premature death, compared to their less funny counterparts. 


The study involved ranking all 53 comedians according to their ability to make people laugh on a scale of 1 to 10. Those scoring 5 and below were considered to be relatively funny, 6-7 pretty funny and 8-10 ranging from very funny to hilarious. This last group would be considered ‘elite’ comedians and include John Cleese and Billy Connolly.



The study used a popular website that ranks the best of only British and Irish Comedians, on purpose, because the researchers focused on a group of comedians from one geographical part of the world. This ensured the similarity of background meant the key issue being investigated was whether there was something about purely being funnier, as opposed to any other differences between comedians, is linked to higher mortality rates.


Dr Simon Stewart and Dr David Thompson argue that a preliminary examination of the comedy scene outside of the UK suggests that their study reveals a more universal phenomenon. 


For example, the survival profiles of famous and celebrated comedy duos such as Abbott (funny man who died aged 52) and Costello (straight man who died aged 78) suggest these findings may hold true across the Atlantic. 


Dr Simon Stewart and Dr David Thompson point out that previous research has established that comedians score high on measures of psychotic traits, and display an unusual personality structure characterised by ‘introverted anhedonia’ combined with ‘extraverted impulsiveness’. 


One theory is that there is something about the kind of personality and psychology involved in being particularly funny, which is also linked to this high mortality rate. 


The authors of the study point out that many comedians have publically admitted to being depressed, or manic, or sometimes even both. 


Examples include John Cleese, Peter Cook, Stephen Fry, Tony Hancock, Spike Milligan and Kenneth Williams. In the case of some like Tony Hancock (widely regarded as a genius comic) this resulted in taking his own life. 


The study was partly inspired by the recent suicide of comedian Robin Williams.


But suicide alone cannot account for this finding, as many of the comedians who died early, did so from natural or medical causes, not suicide, including the recent death, aged just 56 years old, of funny man Rik Mayall. 


However, it may be they manifest self-destructiveness in some more long term ways – Graham Chapman died of cancer possibly secondary to smoking, and was reportedly a heavy drinker.



Psychologists Gil Greengross and Geoffrey  Miller from the University of New Mexico, United States, compared the personalities of 31 professional stand-up comedians with those of nine amateur comedians, 10 humour writers and 400 college students.


The study entitled, ‘The Big Five personality traits of professional comedians compared to amateur comedians, comedy writers, and college students’ found that, surprisingly, comedians are more introverted than other people. 


Gil Greengross and Geoffrey Miller argue that you would expect comedians’ pursuit of fame and attention to mean they are bound to be highly extravert, like we know actors tend to be. 


The intriguing result, published in the journal ‘Personality and Individual Differences’, suggests that comedians do not seek fame the same way as actors. 


While the authors of the study acknowledge that the public perceive comedians as ostentatious and flashy, perhaps their persona on stage is mistakenly seen interchangeably with their real personality.


The jokes they tell about their lives might be considered by many to contain a grain of truth in them, however, the results of this study suggest that the opposite is true. 


Gil Greengross and Geoffrey Miller speculate that perhaps comedians use their performance to disguise who they are in their daily life. Comedians may portray someone they want to be, or perhaps their act is a way if defying the constraints imposed on their everyday events and interactions with others.


The authors speculate that ‘impulsive dis-inhibition’ is at the core of the comedic personality, and is necessary to come up constantly with weird new ideas that are funny. Comedians also need this to violate social rules by publicly declaring unconventional sentiments. But does this ‘impulsive dis-inhibition’ end up killing them, because they then don’t look after themselves properly?


The very funniest, who bring the house down, also seem to pull the curtain down early.


The story of the novel - Michael Schmidt converses on his new book - 'The Novel: A Biography'

Michael Schmidt is editor of a new book entitled: 'The Novel
A Biography' published by Harvard University Press.



Amongst the topics of conversation with psychiatrist Raj Persaud include: whether novelists are more prone to mental illness - why do we appear to have an insatiable psychological appetite for stories - can novels serve a psychological function - can they cheer us up? Can they be therapeutic? Novels are meant to be about the human condition, or human conditions, and yet so also are psychology and psychiatry, but the two don't seem to intersect - novels don't drive psychological research and are novelists moved by developments in psychology and psychiatry?

From the Harvard University Press Website: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.ph...

The 700-year history of the novel in English defies straightforward telling. Geographically and culturally boundless, with contributions from Great Britain, Ireland, America, Canada, Australia, India, the Caribbean, and Southern Africa; influenced by great novelists working in other languages; and encompassing a range of genres, the story of the novel in English unfolds like a richly varied landscape that invites exploration rather than a linear journey. In The Novel: A Biography, Michael Schmidt does full justice to its complexity.

Like his hero Ford Madox Ford in The March of Literature, Schmidt chooses as his traveling companions not critics or theorists but “artist practitioners,” men and women who feel “hot love” for the books they admire, and fulminate against those they dislike. It is their insights Schmidt cares about. Quoting from the letters, diaries, reviews, and essays of novelists and drawing on their biographies, Schmidt invites us into the creative dialogues between authors and between books, and suggests how these dialogues have shaped the development of the novel in English.

Schmidt believes there is something fundamentally subversive about art: he portrays the novel as a liberalizing force and a revolutionary stimulus. But whatever purpose the novel serves in a given era, a work endures not because of its subject, themes, political stance, or social aims but because of its language, its sheer invention, and its resistance to cliché—some irreducible quality that keeps readers coming back to its pages.


A related article which may be of interest - first published in The Huffinton Post:



At the Edinburgh International Science Festival: Aliens as Revealed by Hollywood


By Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham


Janne Korhonen from the Department of Organization and Management at Aalto University in Finland has just published an academic paper exploring whether we should really be trying as hard as we currently are, to make contact with extra-terrestrial intelligences; our assumption that aliens 'out there' would be benign, could be wrong.

The history of our own planet is that civilizations boasting advanced technologies have subjugated and exploited the vulnerable. Should that guide our thinking on how aliens might treat us?

The paper, published in an academic journal, 'Acta Astronautica' (sponsored by the International Academy of Astronautics and devoted to the scientific study of space) advocates that we should be getting inside the minds of extra-terrestrial intelligences, before we naively continue to send probes, and high powered communications, out into space, attempting to make contact with whoever, or whatever, might be out there.

The possibility that extra-terrestrial intelligences (ETIs) could be hostile means we should be lying low, and not signalling our presence to the universe.

One theory as to why when we currently peer into deep space, we can't see any evidence of other civilisations, although statistically speaking just our own galaxy should be teeming with life, is that everyone else out there is camouflaged, and hiding.

All except us in the universe have already calculated the inherent risks of making contact with strangers.

The paper entitled, 'MAD with aliens? Interstellar deterrence and its implications' contends that the risks of an extra-terrestrial attack are not properly debated because of an assumption that we cannot analyse the decision making of an alien civilization.

Janne Korhonen argues, however, we can draw some inferences from the history of deterrence and war on our planet. The acronym 'MAD' in the title of the paper comes from 'Mutually Assured Destruction' - which was the poker game that appeared to keep the Soviet Union and the USA from blowing the world to bits during the Cold War.

In particular, Korhonen advocates special caution for proposed interstellar missions, as star-faring capability itself might be seen as a threat. Paranoid ETIs might also consider the possibility that our messages are a deception designed to lure out hostile civilizations, and pre-emptively destroy them. This would explain why no one has been answering us back, as we try ever harder to make contact.

Even if a superior civilization found our technology appeared puny compared to theirs - it's possible they might be wary - considering this a classic military deception strategy. We could be appearing weak and vulnerable to draw out the enemy, before striking with overwhelming previously concealed firepower.

Novels and movies have portrayed aliens as compassionate and helpful (eg ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), but extra-terrestrials don't have to be particularly paranoid or xenophobic, according to Korhonen, for it to be simply logical to preventively destroy other species, before they can pose a threat.

Korhonen analyses the risks of the most disquieting scenario: that an ETI would, upon detecting advanced civilization on Earth, launch an unprovoked preventive attack, aimed at destroying humanity.

The paper points out an expansionist civilization which is busy 'strip-mining' solar systems for resources, is unlikely to be interested in our fragile globe, as the resources available across galaxies are so vast.

However, a species of extra-terrestrial confined to just a few planets would likely feel more vulnerable.

Korhonen assesses that just ordinary interaction between two inter-galactic adversaries could inadvertently destroy or seriously damage one of them, through transmission of diseases, invasive species, computer viruses or even, merely undesirable information (there is no God).

Also any spacecraft capable of interstellar voyages in reasonable time becomes an inadvertent weapon of mass destruction through sheer momentum. Relatively simple interstellar probes -within our capability soon - would be devastating warheads.

To illustrate this argument Korhonen calculates the kinetic energy for each 1000 kg of spacecraft mass at different velocities, demonstrating how easily one simple probe could exceed the entire global nuclear stockpile. So even primitive interstellar probes, travelling at an appreciable fraction of light speed, could be extremely dangerous to planet-bound civilizations.

Given human history's tendency for 'cock up' as a cause of killing, it is easy to imagine a scenario where a human 'fly-by' probe to a supposedly uninhabited system accidentally damages a civilization that had chosen to remain quiet, perhaps due to paranoid fear of detection. Said civilization might strike back in order to stop further ''attacks.''

But Korhonen contends it's the possibility of retaliation which renders preventive attacks a flawed strategy. Interstellar civilizations would be disinclined to knowingly initiate hostilities using this logic.

Yet this reasoning appears to have escaped those here on earth who are currently planning a pre-emptive strike against Iran, and who launched these against Iraq and Afghanistan. The psychology of war-mongering governments is to persuade the public to sanction pre-emptive strikes. This is achieved by avoiding considering post attack consequences in the propaganda for war.

Korhonen acknowledges his analysis does not cover irrational attacks - including those motivated by ideology or xenophobia - but why might alien civilizations not be prone to the same irrationalities as we have been?

Korhonenn relies on previous calculations from astronomers and planetary scientists that there may be between a hundred thousand to one million other civilisations in our galaxy alone. In which case the key question is not why have we not detected other civilizations out in space, but how come we haven't yet been eradicated?

He believes the aliens have made a critical calculation - which is around fear of retaliation. This is the essential deterrence and also explains why no state has yet initiated a preventive nuclear attack against another on our own planet. Deterrence is reliable if it can inflict ''unacceptable'' damage to the attacker.

Apparently in the poker game of 'Mutually Assured Destruction' between the Soviet Union and the USA, it was the capability to destroy any ten cities in retaliation after a surprise attack, which was seen as reliable and adequate nuclear deterrent.

However, the miscalculation of those who advocate pre-emptive strikes is that survivors and witnesses, in the longer term, take revenge and eventually strike back. This is why we must discourage our leaders from the irrationality of pre-emptive strikes. We are still alive today, and have not been wiped out by a bolt from the sky, because intelligence in outer space has already calculated the foolhardy nature of the pre-emptive strike.

If Korhonen is right, we do have something to learn from the silence of the aliens.

If you are interested in taking part in a brief on-line psychology experiment in collaboration with the Edinburgh International Science Festival, exploring how Hollywood handles science with the implications for us - plus attend a talk on the subject - visit this link here www.sciencefestival.co.uk/whats-on/categories/talk/creating-a-monster-geeks-on-film



Download it free from these links:





Direct download: DR-100_0065.mp3
Category:(2) General Podcasts -- posted at: 1:11am UTC

Cowardice - Chris Walsh bravely discusses his new book with Raj Persaud

Cowards and Cowardice - Chris Walsh bravely discusses with Raj Persaud his new book Cowardice - a brief history - published by Princeton.




Coward. It’s a grave insult, likely to provoke anger, shame, even violence. But what exactly is cowardice? When terrorists are called cowards, does it mean the same as when the term is applied to soldiers? And what, if anything, does cowardice have to do with the rest of us? Bringing together sources from court-martial cases to literary and film classics such as Dante’s InfernoThe Red Badge of Courage, and The Thin Red Line, Cowardice recounts the great harm that both cowards and the fear of seeming cowardly have done, and traces the idea of cowardice’s power to its evolutionary roots. But Chris Walsh also shows that this power has faded, most dramatically on the battlefield. Misconduct that earlier might have been punished as cowardice has more recently often been treated medically, as an adverse reaction to trauma, and Walsh explores a parallel therapeutic shift that reaches beyond war, into the realms of politics, crime, philosophy, religion, and love.


Yet, as Walsh indicates, the therapeutic has not altogether triumphed—contempt for cowardice endures, and he argues that such contempt can be a good thing. Courage attracts much more of our attention, but rigorously understanding cowardice may be more morally useful, for it requires us to think critically about our duties and our fears, and it helps us to act ethically when fear and duty conflict.


Richly illustrated and filled with fascinating stories and insights, Cowardice is the first sustained analysis of a neglected but profound and pervasive feature of human experience.


order the book here: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10318.html


Chris Walsh is associate director of the College of Arts and Sciences Writing Program at Boston University and has also taught at Emerson College, Harvard University, and the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. His work has appeared in Civil War HistoryEssays in CriticismRaritan, and the Yale Review.



A related article which may be of interest

Inside the Mind of the Twitter Troll




Raj Persaud


Under headlines such as ‘McCann 'Twitter troll' found dead in hotel’, the media have widely reported that Police were called after the body of a woman was found in a Leicester hotel room.



The woman, now reported in the press as found ‘likeable’ by her neighbours and ‘churchgoing’, had been confronted by a reporter, who put to her she had posted many messages attacking the McCann family on Twitter.



A few days earlier, in response to the widespread internet abuse they have suffered from numerous ‘trolls’, and following reports that police were reviewing a dossier of abusive social media messages, Gerry McCann, gave an interview declaring, ‘Clearly something needs to be done about the abuse on the internet’.



But new research suggests that if trolling arises out of deeply ingrained and very ‘dark’ personality dispositions, it may be more difficult for the law to be effective.



The press have tried to probe the background of the woman, only to find her behaviour largely mysterious and inexplicable, given her benign public persona in her home village.



The latest scientific study on internet trolls finds them to suffer from a unique constellation of manipulativeness (cunning, scheming, unscrupulous), sadism (pleasure from inflicting pain on others) and psychopathy (lacking empathy  and remorse), which may only be properly illuminated by psychological testing.



Rather than subject this particular case to trolling, as speculation rages over the web and in the press over motivation, what has been revealed about the psyche of internet trolls from objective research?



The motivation which lies behind the apparently growing phenomenon of internet trolling has been recently explored by the first psychological research to examine comprehensive personality profiles of trolls.



This study was titled ‘Trolls just want to have fun’, and was published by academics at the University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg and the University of British Columbia, Canada, involving  1215 respondents completing personality tests, and an investigation of their internet commenting styles.



The first finding of the study, published in the academic journal ‘Personality and Individual Differences’, is that trolls and trolling are a real and rather ‘dark’ psychological phenomenon of particular personalities, not just random behaviour from a group who might dabble in this a bit, and then move on to other more innocuous internet activities.



Strong positive associations emerged among frequency of online commenting, trolling enjoyment, and troll identity. The Daily Telegraph reports that the woman currently at the centre of press interest sometimes posted more than 50 tweets a day, beginning at 7 am and going on until midnight.



Trolling in this new study, published in September 2014, was found to be surprisingly strongly associated with what are widely considered by psychologists to be the ‘darkest’ aspects of personality - including sadism, psychopathy, and manipulativeness.



Of all personality measures, however, it was sadism which showed the most robust associations with trolling. And, importantly, the relationship was specific to trolling behaviour. Enjoyment of other online activities, such as chatting and debating, was unrelated to sadism.



The authors of the study, psychologists Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell and Delroy Paulhus conclude that cyber-trolling is an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism.



If sadism is a feature of your personality psychologists describe you as disposed to enjoy hurting others. You would tend to respond in the affirmative to test questions such as ‘‘Hurting people is exciting’’ and ‘‘I enjoy hurting people’’. You are also likely to suffer from vicarious sadism (e.g., ‘‘In video games, I like the realistic blood spurts’’).



But trolls also scored high on manipulativeness or  Machiavellianism (e.g., ‘‘It’s not wise to tell your secrets’’), and subclinical psychopathy (e.g., ‘‘Payback needs to be quick and nasty’’). These two personality features may explain some aspects of trolling which have hit the headlines over the recent alleged case, including the use of internet names which disguise identity, and possibly the pursuit of revenge.



Some might be surprised that receiving national attention or notoriety would be linked with an adverse outcome, but in fact this study found that of all the ‘darker’ aspects of personality there was one on which trolls did not score highly, and this was narcissism.



Trolls tend not to be narcissists. Narcissists love attention and tend to answer affirmatively to questions such as ‘‘I have been compared to famous people’’. So trolls don’t appear to be performing for the attention.



Because the associations between sadism and trolling were particularly strong, the investigators tested a theory that sadism leads to trolling, because those behaviours are pleasurable, and the data provided some support for this.



As sadists tend to troll because they enjoy it, this might explain why victims revealing their suffering might merely further encourage trolls.



The authors found that the association between sadism and trolling was so strong that they conclude it might be said that online trolls are ‘prototypical everyday sadists’.



The authors suggest that their findings add to accumulating evidence that excessive technology use is linked to anti-social attitudes. The antisocial might deploy technology more than others because it facilitates their nefarious goals.



However, some psychologists go further to argue that use of internet technology actually pushes us in an anti-social direction. If this is the case then the internet could be said to be turning a significant proportion of recent generations into psychopaths.



This is because for the first time in human history a universally accessible anonymous environment has been created, where it is easy to seek out and explore one’s niche, however idiosyncratic.



The authors of this study point out that the antisocial now have greater opportunities than they ever did to connect with similar others, and to pursue their personal brand of ‘‘self expression’’. The problem is both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others and this is now unfettered.



The web may also provide an opportunity to shape and develop an aspect of our personalities which might otherwise remain more hidden from our neighbours and friends. Online we can construct a new identity which may be more antisocial and may reflect parts of us we normally suppress from the outside world.




This 'double-life' idea might help us understand how extreme stress could follow exposure:  the 'internet' persona may be compared with the 'real life' one, leading to the sort of tragedy which seems to have happened.

Raj Persaud is now joint podcast editor for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and also now has a free app on iTunes and google play store entitled 'Raj Persaud in conversation', which includes a lot of free information on the latest research findings in mental health, plus interviews with top experts from around the world. Download it free from these links



Direct download: Chris_Walsh_talks_about_Cowardice_with_Raj_Persaud.mp3
Category:(2) General Podcasts -- posted at: 12:07am UTC

Sado-Masochistic Sex. Psychology of Sado-Masochism and S/M Sex

In conversation with Ummni Khan - Sado-Masochism in popular culture and the law.

Ummni is the author of a new book entitled 'Vicarious Kinks - S/M in the socio-legal imaginary'


Who decides where “normal” stops and “perverse” begins? In Vicarious Kinks, Ummni Khan looks at the mass of claims that film, feminism, the human sciences, and law make about sadomasochism and its practitioners, and the way those claims become the basis for the legal regulation of sadomasochist pornography and practice. Khan’s audacious proposal is that for film, feminism, law, and science, the constant focus on taboo sexuality is a form of “vicarious kink” itself.

Rather than attempt to establish the “truth” about sadomasochism, Vicarious Kinks asks who decides that sadomasochism is perverse, examining how various fields present their claims to truth when it comes to sadomasochism. The first monograph by a new scholar working at the juncture of law and sexuality, Vicarious Kinks challenges the myth of law as an objective adjudicator of sexual truth.

Vicarious Kinks: S/M in the Socio-Legal Imaginary




 If you are viewing this podcast from inside the free mobile phone app 'Raj Persaud in Conversation' you can click on the 'gift box' icon which might be on the top right hand corner of your screen to download bonus content - an article by Raj Persaud and Professor Adrian Furnham on the psychology of attraction. You can also find this bonus content in the initial main menu screen that comes up when you open the app on the top right hand corner of the screen under a menu icon that reveals 'extras' - click on extras to see the bonus content.

Women's Sexual Fantasies - the Latest Scientific Research



Dr Raj Persaud and Dr Jenny Bivona


A team of psychologists led by a woman has uncovered some surprising findings on one of the most secret aspects of female sexual fantasy.


While almost everyone has sexual fantasies, previous research into the subject has found between 31 and 62% of women have rape fantasies. To be sexually aroused by such an imagined scenario represents a psychological mystery. Why fantasise about a criminal act which in reality is repulsive and harrowing?


To investigate these and other riddles at the heart of female erotic fantasy, a team of researchers based at the University of North Texas and the University of Notre Dame studied 355 young women.


A part of the research involved the participants being read a rape fantasy scenario over headphones, to investigate how aroused they became.


In the study, published in the academic journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour, participants were instructed to close their eyes while listening and to try to imagine themselves as the woman described in the narrative. This scenario was derived from story lines typically found in much women's romance literature, so it portrayed an erotic rape fantasy, rather than a literal portrayal of actual assault.


This was the scenario: a male acquaintance is strongly attracted to the female character. He expresses a yearning for sex with her, but she's clearly unresponsive. He attempts without success to convince her. When she continues to openly refuse, he overpowers and rapes her.


The female character is resistant throughout the interaction and at no time gives consent. However, as the man is attractive and he provides erotic stimulation, she does experience gratification from the forced sex. The scenario places more emphasis on the use of coercion than on the sexual pleasure.


The results of the study, (which also explored other sexual and aggressive fantasies, self esteem, attitudes to sex and other personality testing) are that 52% of the women had fantasies about forced sex by a man: 32% had fantasies about being raped by a man: 28% - forced oral sex by a man: 16% - forced anal sex: 24% - incapacitated: 17% - forced sex by a woman: 9% - raped by a woman: 9% - forced oral sex by a woman. Overall, 62% reported having had at least one of these fantasies.


The team of researchers lead by Dr Jenny Bivona, based at the University of North Texas found that overall, 62% of participants reported having a rape fantasy of some type.


Of the women who reported having the most common rape fantasy rape fantasy, ''being overpowered or forced by a man to surrender sexually against my will,'' 40% had it at least once a month and 20% had it at least once a week. The authors conclude these results indicate rape fantasies play a significant role in the sexual fantasy lives of many women.


It's important to note that while headline writers may focus on the fact women have sexual fantasies about coercive sex, this research finds it's an occasional daydream, not a preoccupation. It would be similarly unfair to tar men with the brush of an occasional fantasy they may have. When these female fantasies are erotic in character, the male protagonist is always described as highly attractive or otherwise desirable.


According to this study, entitled Women's Rape Fantasies: An Empirical Evaluation of the Major Explanations, a previous common psychological theory as to why women should fantasise about rape or forced sex was termed 'sexual blame avoidance'. This theory was about women avoiding taking responsibility for sexual desires. The hypothesis argued that women have been socialised by our culture to work hard at not being perceived as promiscuous or overly sexual. For example, stigmatising labels, such as ''tramp'' and ''slut,'' are invoked which control or restrict female sexuality.


'Sexual blame avoidance' theory argues that, for some women therefore, fantasies of consensual sex could generate self-blame, guilt, and anxiety. So by letting the fantasy take the form of rape, the woman in the fantasy is being forced to do something she doesn't want to. It follows then she can't be blamed for the occurrence of sex. In contrast to a consensual sexual fantasy, a forced sex theme enhances sexual gratification by allowing the fantasiser to avoid blame and guilt.


The results of this study found no support for this theory.


The authors of this new ground-breaking research concede that 'sexual blame avoidance' may have been true in the past when we lived in more sexually repressed times, so it's possible that over recent decades changes in attitudes to sex means the stress for women of being viewed as overly sexual has disappeared. Now few women appear to have rape fantasies to avoid blame from having openly consensual sexual fantasies.


In direct contrast to 'sexual blame avoidance', is the 'openness to sexual experience' theory. Instead of being driven by repressed sexuality, this supposition is rape fantasies derive from a generally open, tolerant and guilt-free attitude toward sex. It was this theory which received the strongest support in this new research by Dr Bivona and colleagues.


A notable finding is that women who reported being less repressed about sex were more likely to have rape fantasies, but were also more open to fantasy in general, more likely to have consensual fantasies, and more likely to report a higher level of arousal to rape fantasies.


Interestingly, the women who reported having frequent rape fantasies were also likely to report having fantasies about "overpowering or forcing a man to surrender sexually against his will."


Fantasising about being a stripper also predicted a tendency to fantasise about rape. Another intriguing result is women who report rape fantasies were more likely to have high self-esteem.


These results suggest that having fantasies about things we would never endorse or choose to do in reality, are not necessarily signs of psychological disturbance. In fact, according to this research, women who have rape fantasies also tend to have more positive attitudes toward sex, high self esteem, and more frequent consensual sexual fantasies.


This study in no way condones or tries to justify rape, which remains a violent and reprehensible crime no matter what the research on sexual fantasy of either gender might turn up. While some may even believe that publishing results such as these is going to assist some rapists in justifying their actions, the reality is these violent criminals are not scanning erudite academic research searching for justifications for assault. The editors and armies of academics who consider research submitted for publication in academic journals such as Archives of Sexual Behaviour also clearly believe this kind of study deserves publication, and wider dissemination in the field.


Fantasy is a deeply problematic area for many people and for psychiatry and psychology - why do some people convert strange ideas into actual deeds - as in the case of Brievik the Norway mass murder scenario - while others just enjoy their vivid, creative and somewhat unusual imaginations without taking action. Why do various individuals become disturbed about fantasies of which they don't approve? As a result much psychosexual therapy involves exploring and confronting the mysteries of sexual fantasy.


We don't yet know the answers to many of these questions, but this kind of scientific investigation is assisting in our search for understanding.


Dr Raj Persaud is a Consultant Psychiatrist based in London, Dr Jenny Bivona graduated from the University of North Texas and now works as a clinical psychologist.




This podcast has been made on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK) by Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen

If you are interested in further information on CPD Online or wish to earn CPD credit points, please visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD Online website for further information at www.psychiatrycpd.co.uk


For more general podcasts visit: www.rcpsych.ac.uk/discoverpsychiatry/podcasts.aspx

The Psychology of Optimism

In conversation with Rebecca Mcguire-Snieckus - what is optimism - is it good for you? A lecturer in Psychology at Bath Spa University, she talks about a recent paper Rebecca has published in Psychiatric Bulletin on the Psychology of Optimism.

Issues discussed include:
What is optimism?
What is the famous positivity bias that has been found in general populations?
What is the role of optimism in depression?
Why and how is optimism seen as a part of psychotherapy in CBT?
What is the role of optimism in therapy?
Are you an optimist?


If you are interested in further information on CPD Online or wish to earn CPD credit points, please visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD Online website for further information at  


After listening to this podcast and podcasts like this it is possible to visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD site and after completing some questions gain CPD points on-line.


McGuire-Snieckus, R. (2014). Hope, optimism and delusion. Psychiatric Bulletin. http://pb.rcpsych.org/content/early/2014/01/27/pb.bp.113.044438#BIBL





A related article from The Huffington Post which may be of interest:




Can Psychologists Predict Whether Just-Christened George Is Heading for a Happy or a Meaningful Life?


Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham






Parents, friends, relatives and God Parents gather for a christening - which like a wedding and other religious rituals is associated not just with happiness, but also imbued with meaning.


But are a happy life and a meaningful life the same thing? Can pursuing one lead to less of the other? The choice of God Parents to a future Monarch might reveal the parents thinking on the pursuit of happiness or meaning, in terms of future guidance for their child.


This is a question which has also just been investigated by a large psychology study entitled 'Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life'; about to be published in the 'Journal of Positive Psychology'.


The researchers let participants define the happy, or meaningful life. Happiness appeared linked to having needs and desires satisfied, and leading an existence largely free from unpleasant events.


A meaningful life, in contrast, appeared linked to some over-arching purpose. Often it meant sacrifice and being devoted more to improving the welfare of others, rather than yourself.


The authors of the new study, Roy Baumeister, Kathleen Vohs, Jennifer Aaker and Emily Garbinsky, point out it is possible to have a meaningful but unhappy life (e.g. being an oppressed political activist). Attaining the 'holy grail' of the happy and meaningful life appeared possible, from the findings of this study, but not as straightforward as previously might have been thought.


Happiness flows from benefits you receive from others. Meaningfulness, instead, is associated with the benefits that others receive from you.


This new psychology research finds that while being happy and finding life meaningful overlap, there are important differences. A national sample of 397 adults were surveyed; results revealed that satisfying one's needs and wants increased happiness, but was largely irrelevant to meaningfulness.


Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went more with being a giver rather than a taker. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to more meaningfulness, yet lower happiness.


It might come as no surprise that the results reveal finding one's life to be relatively easy was linked to more happiness. But considering life a struggle was positively related with meaningfulness. Some people endure highly meaningful yet not very pleasant lives, perhaps because their meaningful activities require strenuous and unpleasant effort.


The authors, from Florida State University, University of Minnesota and Stanford University, conclude finding one's life easy or difficult is a matter of happiness, but not of meaning.


Not having enough money reduced both meaningfulness and happiness, but the effect was considerably larger on happiness than meaningfulness. Monetary scarcity was 20 times more detrimental to happiness than to meaning. Having sufficient money to purchase objects of desire (both necessities and luxuries) was important for happiness, but made little impact on whether life was meaningful.


The more time people devoted to thinking about the past and future, the more meaningful their lives were - and the less happy. Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life. Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future, and is much more about living for the present.


The more people thought only about the present, the happier they were.


Spending time with friends was positively related to happiness. Time spent with loved people was significantly linked with meaning, but surprisingly irrelevant to happiness, possibly because loved ones can be difficult at times. People with more meaningful lives also agreed that 'relationships are more important than achievements'; this sentiment was unrelated to happiness.


For parents, the more time they spent taking care of children, the more meaningful their lives were, yet looking after children also reduced happiness.


The authors argue these findings illuminate the so-called 'parenthood paradox,' which is that most people want to be happy, and desire to become parents, but those two goals are in fact in conflict.


Becoming a parent has been shown by a raft of research to often reduce happiness. Roy Baumeister, the lead author of the current study, has proposed that the 'parenthood paradox' can be resolved by proposing that we seek not just happiness but also meaning. People become parents because the gains in meaningfulness offset any losses in happiness.


This latest research has profound implications for positive psychology, because it suggests that people will pursue meaningfulness even at the expense of happiness.


The more that people regarded arguing as something that reflects them, the more meaningful but the less happy their lives were. The effects of arguing were similar to those of helping others.


The authors of the study propose that meaningfulness comes in part from being involved in things one regards as important, and sometimes one has to argue for these. But the unpleasantness of arguing may contribute to lower happiness. Happy people may prefer not to argue and arguing is something they might do only reluctantly, rather than as a frequent expression of their inner self and values.


It's again perhaps not surprising that more worrying was linked to lower happiness, but greater frequency of worrying was associated with higher levels of meaningfulness. People with very meaningful lives worry more and have more stress than people with less meaningful lives.


The authors suggest worrying comes from involvement and engagement with important activities that go beyond the self, and beyond the present, and so worrying may often be an unavoidable part of a meaningful life, even though it detracts from happiness.


The psychologists offered brief composite sketches of the unhappy but meaningful life and of the happy but meaningless life - were these relevant for the future King George?


The unhappy but meaningful life is seriously involved in difficult undertakings. It's marked by ample worry, stress, argument, and anxiety. These people perceive themselves as having had more unpleasant experiences than others. In fact 3% of having a meaningful life was due to having had bad things happen to you.


Although these individuals may be relatively unhappy, they could make important positive contributions to society. High meaningfulness despite low happiness was associated with being a giver rather than a taker. These people were more likely to say that taking care of children reflected them, as did buying gifts for others.


The highly happy but relatively meaningless life is characterised by seeming rather carefree, lacking in worries and anxieties. If these people argue, they do not feel that arguing reflects them.


They are takers rather than givers, and such happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.


Given the picture this latest research paints, is there a clue as to Kate's and William's values in their choice of God Parents?



Which life did the various adults at the christening ceremony largely pursue - the happy or the meaningful?



We can only hope that George, or any child, experiences both.







This podcast has been made on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK) by Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen

If you are interested in further information on CPD Online or wish to earn CPD credit points, please visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD Online website for further information at www.psychiatrycpd.co.uk


For more general podcasts visit: www.rcpsych.ac.uk/discoverpsychiatry/podcasts.aspx

Direct download: DR-100_0050.mp3
Category:(2) General Podcasts -- posted at: 12:00pm UTC

Freud on the Brain. Latest neuroscience research supports Freud?

Can neuroscience prove the existence of the Unconsious?


Dr Raj Persaud in conversation with Institute of Psychiatry neuropsychiatrist Professor Tony David: Does the latest neuroscience research support Freud?

This podcast is based on a paper recently published entitled:

Neural correlates of recall of life events in conversion disorder.

Aybek S, Nicholson TR, Zelaya F2, O'Daly OG, Craig TJ, David AS, Kanaan RA.

JAMA Psychiatry. 2014 Jan;71(1):52-60. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.2842.

The paper is a brain imaging investigation of conversion disorder or hysteria. The study probes a neuroscience explanation for conversion symptoms, where a traumatic experience is transformed into a symptom, such as paralysis of a leg.


If you are interested in further information on CPD Online or wish to earn CPD credit points, please visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD Online website for further information at www.psychiatrycpd.co.uk


A related article which may be of interest originally published in The Huffington Post



Can You Completely Forget Who You Are? As a Man With Almost Total Amnesia Grabs the Headlines - What It Reveals About Us


Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen

The UK media reports that a man with severe amnesia, who still cannot remember even his own name, or where he comes from, but who was discovered in Peterborough, suffering from severe amnesia two months ago, is baffling mental health experts.


They are now appealing to the public for help, in the hope that someone might recognise him.
'Robert' is reportedly suffering from an upsetting and very severe case of amnesia where he cannot recall any details of his life, including his own name, age, where he is from; or his job.


One key clue is that although 'Robert' (a name given to him by hospital staff) speaks English, his accent seems to be eastern European, and he also appears to understand some Lithuanian and Russian.


Similar cases, which could explain this mysterious incident, include a clinical case report, published in 2010, entitled 'Running towards a different life: A case of Dissociative Fugue', by Dr M. Santos and Dr E. Gago from Hospital Magalhães Lemos, Portugal.


The paper, published in the academic journal 'European Psychiatry', explains that the diagnosis of fugue in psychiatry derives from the Latin word for flight-- fugere. Dissociative fugue is an extremely rare psychological condition - the sufferer suddenly and without warning travels far from home, completely unable to recall their past.


These episodes are usually linked, explain Santos and Gago, with severe stress or trauma, such as disasters, losses of loved ones or intolerable burdens at work or home. The amnesia appears completely genuine, with patients displaying no conscious understanding of the psychological reason for the flight. This is usually accompanied by muddles over personal identity and sometimes even complete assumption of a new self.


Santos and Gago report that the journeying associated with 'Dissociative Fugue' can last for several months. Some patients travel thousands of miles from home while in this state.


Another recent study entitled 'Dissociative memory impairments and immigration' also published in 'European Psychiatry' in 2010, by Dr A. Staniloiu, Dr S. Borsutzky and Dr H.J. Markowitsch, suggest there is even a possible link between this kind of psychological problem and immigration.


The authors from the University of Bielefeld, Germany, argue that stressful experiences arising during migration could precipitate these symptoms, though a delayed onset at times occurs reflecting an 'incubation' effect.


Another recent study suggests an effective treatment for 'Dissociative Fugue' which appears to have fallen out of favour recently, which might explain why it may not have been used in more current cases.


The case study entitled 'Amytal interview using intravenous lorazepam in a patient with dissociative fugue', reports a middle-aged white female picked up by emergency medical services in the USA, who could not remember her name, address, and did not know the name of the city.


Lorazepam (a sedative drug a bit like Valium) was given intravenously by the psychiatrist. Although relaxed and sleepy the patient was kept awake by asking her to restate the name of her present in-patient psychiatrist, whom she had become close to. She was led back in fantasy to the gas station where she was picked up and was requested to identify it. Once she successfully named a location from her personal history, she was led to give her name, hometown, birthday, social security number, employment, motherhood and marital status.


The investigation, published in the journal 'General Hospital Psychiatry' in 2006, reports that after she awoke the patient described past and recent sexual assaults. The recent rape was about 10 days before hospitalization. A final diagnosis of Dissociative Fugue was made, and the patient was discharged to outpatient follow-up and the Victims of Violent Crime clinic.


The authors of this paper, Dr Sunday Ilechukwu, from the Ann Arbor Health Care System and Dr Thomas Henry, then at Wayne State University, USA, argue that procedures like this provide the patient with an opportunity for the recall and review of recent emotional crisis, linkage to past trauma and provision of context to current experience.


The authors contend that the simple but critical process of naming her identity under sedation, probably helped her come to terms with the precipitating conflict.


The authors also argue care needs to be taken to minimize the risk of introducing false or distorted memories. The use of video-recorded feedback may also help consolidate gains made during the interview.


The authors conclude that the so-called 'sodium amobarbital' interviews have been in use for about 70 years and refers to the use of an older barbiturate type drug, could be brought back into modern psychiatric practice. The study suggests that such pharmacological-facilitated interviews continue to be a useful procedure with such cases, but that a safer more modern drug, such as lorazepam, can be used as an alternative.


But why should trauma lead some people to forget even who they are? Another study entitled 'A case of persistent retrograde amnesia following a dissociative fugue: Neuropsychological and neurofunctional underpinnings of loss of autobiographical memory and self-awareness', argues that, since memories can be vivid, threatening and painful, they may be removed from consciousness as a way of protecting the self-concept.


The authors, Kristina Hennig-Fast, Franziska Meister , Thomas Frodl , Anna Beraldi , Frank Padberg, Rolf Engel , Maximilian Reiser , Hans-Jürgen Möller and Thomas Meindl, brain scanned an individual suffering from these fugue like symptoms. The results highlighted the key role of visual and emotional properties of autobiographical memory in the maintenance of this kind of amnesia.



The study published in the journal 'Neuropsychologia', found reduced neural activity within the brain network producing autobiographical memory retrieval. The authors based at Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, posit a protective defence mechanism caused by neuronal inhibition that serves to prevent an overflow of intensive aversive emotions.



The authors suggest that visual imagery plays a central role in the recall of autobiographical memories. Defects in the way the brain visually processes memory which might help explain puzzling phenomena such as Dissociative Fugue.



Their patient regained only three remote and strongly negative childhood memories dating from the time before the dissociative fugue. All were highly negative, vivid and fragmented episodes comparable to frozen images, e.g. of the coffin at his grandfather's funeral.



It must surely be one of the most disturbing experiences of all, not to recall anything of our past except alarming fragments. Psychiatric investigation of this kind of suffering is helping to reveal how the normal sense of personal identity is achieved. Visual aspects of memory may be more important than we previously realised. The fact that it can be lost suggests we shouldn't take it for granted.



Trying to uncover who 'Robert' really is, could also help us find ourselves.




If you are a psychiatrist, or a similar clinical professional, who is collecting Continuing Professional Development Points, after listening to this podcast and podcasts like this, it is possible to visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD web site, and after completing some questions (plus registering with the site), gain CPD points on-line.


Raj Persaud is joint podcast editor for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and also now has a free app on iTunes and google play store entitled 'Raj Persaud in conversation', which includes a lot of free information on the latest research findings in mental health, plus interviews with top experts from around the world.








10,000 suicides. Did the recession lead to 10,000 excess suicides?

Did 10,000 people kill themselves because of the last recession?


Raj Persaud in conversation with Oxford University Sociologist Aaron Reeves - how did the recession lead to 10,000 excess suicides?


Aaron Reeves is a post-doctoral researcher and an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oxford. He is also a post-doctoral research fellow at Nuffield College and his research interests include: political economy of health, social protection, social and cultural exclusion, and quantitative sociology.


He is currently working with Dr. David Stuckler examining natural experiments in relation to poverty-reduction and health as well as exploring the impact of the recession and austerity on health outcomes. In addition to this he is also working on projects analysing the association between social position and the intergenerational transference of cultural practice.


Dr Reeves completed his PhD in Applied Social & Economic Research with the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex and has published several articles linking healthcare and the economy.


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A related article which may be of interest




After the Robin William’s tragedy – will there be copycats? Raj Persaud and Professor Sir Simon Wessely (President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists)


Raj Persaud and Professor Sir Simon Wessely (President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists)




Robert Enke, a very famous German football goal keeper, killed himself on the railway on 10th November 2009.




The number of railway suicidal acts, in the following two weeks, more than doubled in Germany.




The study which uncovered this is entitled ‘One followed by many?—Long-term effects of a celebrity suicide on the number of suicidal acts on the German railway net’, and is recently published in the ‘Journal of Affective Disorders’. There was also an increase of railway suicides of 19% in the following two years, as compared to the two years before this tragic event.




The authors of the study,Ulrich Hegerl, Nicole Koburger, Christine Rummel-Kluge, Christian Gravert, Martin Walden and Roland Mergl, found the 25% increase of fatal railway suicides between 2007 and 2010 was significantly greater than the 6% increase in the total number of suicides in Germany over the same period.




The authors based at the University of Leipzig, and Deutsche Bahn AG (the German Railway Company), conclude that Enke’s suicide probably led to copycat suicidal behaviour on the railways.






The authors point out that the media attention of the footballer’s suicide was exceptional and enduring, and this may have had an impact. For example, television broadcasts of a public mourning ceremony, held in the team’s stadium, were viewed by almost 7 million German viewers.




30 railway suicidal acts occurred in the two-week interval before Encke’s suicide, 71 railway suicidal acts in the two week interval following this event; an increase of 137%.




But what is more ominous is that this research found an elevated long-term ‘attractiveness’ of railway suicidal acts after Enke’s suicide.




The authors conclude that their findings are a strong argument for improving media coverage of suicides, and community suicide preventive programs.




A study entitled ‘To What Extent Does the Reporting Behavior of the Media Regarding a Celebrity Suicide Influence Subsequent Suicides in South Korea?’, just published in the journal ‘Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior’, investigated the world record copycat effect thus far. This was the suicide of the Asian star actress Choi Jin-shil; starring in 18 films, she has been described as South Korea’s equivalent of Julia Roberts .




The authors, Jesuk Lee, Weon-Young Lee, Jang-Sun Hwang and Steve Stack, found her death on 2 October 2008 was subsequently associated with 429 additional suicides in South Korea, which is a record copycat effect.




Another recent investigation entitled, ‘Changes in suicide rates following media reports on celebrity suicide: a meta-analysis’, examined 10 studies from around the world, probing for similar copycat effects, examining 98 suicides by celebrities.




The team of authors, led by Thomas Niederkrotenthaler,  King-wa Fu, Paul Yip, Daniel Fong, Steven Stack, Qijin Cheng and Jane Pirkis, report a change in suicide rates of on average roughly almost three suicides per 1000 000 population, in the month after a celebrity suicide across the world.




Extrapolating from these figures, the worse case scenario would be an additional almost 200 suicides over the next month, in the UK, with approaching 1000 in the USA. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but these non-celebrity suicides are unlikely to make the headlines.






The study, published in the ‘Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health’, report suicides by an ‘entertainment celebrity’, across the planet, had the greatest impact of all in Europe, in terms of copycat incidents, followed by a slightly smaller impact in the USA.




The authors based at the Universities of Vienna, Hong Kong, Melbourne and Wayne State, found a particular celebrity impact on copycat behaviour by entertainment celebrities, as opposed to other prominent people, such as politicians.




Thomas Niederkrotenthaler and co-authors argue the suicide of an entertainment celebrity is so influential perhaps because of audience identification.




Celebrities are revered and may therefore act as particularly strong role models even when it comes to taking their own lives.




Guidelines for media reporting of suicide include that detailed discussion of the particular method should be avoided, and as images of the death scene are highly influential, these should not be broadcast. For details see http://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/press/Samaritans%20Media%20Guidelines%202013%20UK.pdf. These and similar links may be of special interest for journalists reporting about suicides




But by writing this article are we ourselves violating the media guidelines? Not so, we contend, because the recommendations do not say there should be no media reporting, but that it should be sober and responsible.




Thomas Niederkrotenthaler points out that not all celebrity suicide reporting is associated with increases in suicides subsequently. This is exemplified by the suicide of Rock Star Kurt Cobain. His suicide was widely reported, but there was no copycat phenomenon afterwards, Dr Thomas Niederkrotenthaler maintains.




This may be due to Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, expressing both her sadness and anger about her far too early loss, in the media, and contacts to support services were published, along with her statements, immediately after his suicide. Indeed, research showed that these mental health services experienced an increase in clients, but there was no upsurge in suicides.




Perhaps the celebrity obsession of the media is in fact a reflection of a deeper problem with journalism, of which suicide reporting is merely a symptom. Reporting of celebrities lives in general tends to remain somewhat naïve. Being rich and famous, according to the classic simplistic media analysis, inoculates against any serious psychological problems.




In a study entitled ‘Psychological strains found in the suicides of 72 celebrities’, the tensions experienced throughout the lives of 72 celebrities were systematically investigated.




The authors, Jie Zhang, Jiandan Tan and David Lester found of 72 ‘celebrity’ suicides, only one had no ‘strains’ at all.






The authors, from Shandong University School of Public Health and Central University of Finance and Economics, China, and The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, USA, found the most common pressure was ‘aspiration strain’ – found in 97% of the lives of celebrities who kill themselves.




‘Aspiration strain’ was defined in this study, published in the ‘Journal  of Affective Disorders’, as a gap between an individual’s aspiration and the reality of their life. For example, wishing to be much richer than you actually are.




The study found 30 celebrities who killed themselves suffered at least two contrasting life strains, while 36 had endured three different ‘strains’.




Perhaps the take home message should be that despairing sadness may happen to anyone, irrespective of fame or wealth.




But what many people still do not know is that depression, and also other mental health problems, including personal crises, can be treated, and that there is help available.




That should be the headline story.





If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article you may find the following of help: Samaritans Helpline: 08457 90 90 90 http://www.samaritans.org



If you are a psychiatrist, or a similar clinical professional who is collecting Continuing Professional Development Points, after listening to this podcast and podcasts like this, it is possible to visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD web site, and after completing some questions (plus registering with the site), gain CPD points on-line.


Raj Persaud is now joint podcast editor for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and also now has a free app on iTunes and google play store entitled 'Raj Persaud in conversation', which includes a lot of free information on the latest research findings in mental health, plus interviews with top experts from around the world.



Does Meditation Work? The Scientific Evidence.

Latest research on whether meditation works with surprising findings


Dr Raj Persaud in conversation with Dr Madhav Goyal from Johns Hopkins University USA on scientific research investigating whether meditation has psychological benefits

A recent review of research on meditation comes to surprising conclusions about whether it actually works in terms of mental health objectives - Raj Persaud discusses the findings with lead author Dr Madhav Goyal from Johns Hopkins University.

Dr.Goyal is an assistant professor in the division of general internal medicine at Johns Hopkins University.  He is a practicing internist, with research interests in patients dealing with chronic pain and non-pain symptoms that have been refractory to conventional care.  

He completed his undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley, medical school at UC San Diego, masters in public health at Harvard School of Public Health, and his fellowship in General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins.

If you are a psychiatrist, or a similar clinical professional who is collecting Continuing Professional Development Points, after listening to this podcast and podcasts like this, it is possible to visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD web site, and after completing some questions (plus registering with the site), gain CPD points on-line.





Can meditation cure depression and improve well-being? The latest medical research gives pause for thought - an article by raj persaud and peter bruggen explaining Madhav Goyal's paper


Can Meditation Help Depression and Improve Well-being? The Latest Medical Research Gives Pause for Thought


Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen



The most recent comprehensive review of research on the benefits of meditation concludes that rigorous clinical trials find only, 'small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress'.


'Mantra' based meditation programs such as 'Transcendental Meditation' did not significantly improve any of the outcomes examined. Transcendental Meditation, unlike other meditation techniques, emphasizes the use of a mantra in such a way that it 'transcends one to an effortless state where focused attention is absent'.


This latest analysis entitled 'Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being, A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis', was published in the prestigious 'Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine'. It was conducted because many now use meditation to treat stress-related conditions and promote general health.


Madhav Goyal, Jennifer Haythornthwaite, and a team from Johns Hopkins University and Medical School in the USA, reviewed 47 separate studies with 3515 participants. Their analysis found that 'Mindfulness' meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved anxiety, depression, and pain, but low evidence of improved stress and mental health-related quality of life. They found no evidence that Transcendental meditation improved any outcomes.


These relatively small effects of 'Mindfulness' meditation are comparable with what would be expected from the use of an antidepressant, but without the associated toxicities. The review did conclude that meditation does appear free of possible harms or harmful side-effects compared with other treatments.


'Mindfulness' meditation derives from aspects of Buddhism, and involves learning to become aware of thoughts and internal states, but not be affected emotionally by them - so-called non-judgemental awareness. Mindfulness has been described as the next new wave in psychological treatment - following on from CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.


This latest review however found there was little to no evidence of any significant effect of any kind of meditation on positive mood, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, and weight. There was no evidence that meditation programs were better than any active treatment (ie, drugs, exercise, and other behavioural therapies). Behavioural treatments tend to emphasise performing an action eg confronting what is making you anxious - while 'Mindfulness' meditation appears to encourage facing challenges, but from a different mental angle - you aren't judging it, you are not reacting to it.


'Mindfulness' meditation techniques did appear most effective in dealing with a particular kind of pain referred to as 'visceral', in other words pain coming from organs such as the stomach or bowels, but it was less effective with pain from muscles and bones. This suggests that perhaps certain techniques of meditation may be useful in particular conditions, but they are not universal panaceas.


In 20 Randomised Controlled Trials examining comparative effectiveness, mindfulness and mantra programs (such as Transcendental Meditation) did not show significant effects when the comparison was a known treatment or therapy. In some cases it appeared that the meditation program may have been as effective as the known therapy, and in other cases less effective than it.


The authors of this new review ended up excluding an enormous number (18,706 studies) because, for example, many of the studies did not adequately allow for possible placebo effects, by using an adequate comparison group. Also much of the research didn't randomise people in to groups having meditation, or a placebo, as properly conducted drug trials should.


Just studying people who have themselves chosen meditation, is prone to another bias. The problem of 'self-selection' - people who believe in the benefits of meditation are more likely to enrol in a meditation program, and then perhaps report positively. Allowing for this bias involves allocating subjects randomly to meditation or comparison treatments. This takes out the self-selection bias of just studying those who had already themselves already chosen meditation, and therefore might be more highly motivated or biased to declare it helpful.


Because of such self-selection problems, randomisation is now a key part of properly conducted clinical trials on treatments such as drugs.


The authors of this latest review point out that medical research may end up being unfair to meditation. There are challenges in acquiring such mental skills or meditative states, and Randomised Controlled Trials tend to be time-limited.


Meditation is a skill or state learned and practiced over time, increasing awareness and gaining insight and understanding into the various subtleties of existence. Training the mind in awareness, in nonjudgmental states, or in the ability to become completely free of thoughts or other activity are 'daunting accomplishments'. The authors of the study recommend longer term trials with an emphasis on greater amounts of mental training.


They also point out that the interest in meditation that has grown during the past 30 years in Western cultures derives from Eastern traditions emphasizing lifelong growth. The West may have fundamentally misunderstood the basic point of meditation, and trying to do short term trials just compounds the misunderstanding.


On the other hand, Kristin Barker of the University of New Mexico, has just published a critique of 'Mindfulness' meditation, pointing out several inherent contradictions in the practice. Her paper entitled 'Mindfulness meditation: Do-it-yourself medicalization of every moment', points out that 'Mindfulness' meditation contends one is healed through accepting things as they are, even (or especially) in the presence of illness; yet many of the books and recordings advocating the technique boast descriptions of seemingly phenomenal cures through mindfulness.


Published in the academic journal 'Social Science & Medicine', the critique points out a host of contradictory phrases arising from 'Mindfulness': "One needs to try less and be more" and "intentionally cultivating the attitude of non-striving", and, one must engage in "doing nothing, on a regular basis, on systematic basis, in a disciplined way".


Madhav Goyal, Jennifer Haythornthwaite and the team from Johns Hopkins University conclude from their review that meditation programs could help reduce anxiety, depression and pain, but only in some people.


They argue that doctors should still be prepared to discuss with patients the role that a meditation program could have in addressing some strains, particularly pain, anxiety and depression. These were the conditions for which 'Mindfulness' meditation was found to be most effective.



If you are a psychiatrist, or a similar clinical professional who is collecting Continuing Professional Development Points, after listening to this podcast and podcasts like this, it is possible to visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD web site, and after completing some questions (plus registering with the site), gain CPD points on-line.


Raj Persaud is joint podcast editor for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and also now has a free app on iTunes and google play store entitled 'Raj Persaud in conversation', which includes a lot of free information on the latest research findings in mental health, plus interviews with top experts from around the world.