Raj Persaud in conversation - the podcasts
The Punisher's Brain
In conversation with Trial Judge Morris Hoffman - author of 'The Punisher's Brain'
 
A new book 'The Punishers Brain' authored by US Trial Judge Morris Hoffman, forms the basis of this discussion and podcast from Raj Persaud, Podcast Editor for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, on the latest neuroscience and psychology research about telling right and wrong. 
 
Dr Raj Persaud - Consultant Psychiatrist from London - talks to Morris Hoffman adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Colorado and the University of Denver, about his fascinating new book entitled 'The Punisher's Brain' published by Cambridge University Press, which mounts various surprising arguments about how we decide what is right and what is wrong, and what we then do about it. Included in the conversation is a discussion about how some group therapy prison programs actually seem to make psychopaths worse, because they learn about human psychology from the group therapy, which they then exploit for their own ends! 
 
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

 
WANT TO LISTEN TO THIS PODCAST ON YOUR MOBILE PHONE OR DEVICE? DOWNLOAD THE FREE APP - RAJ PERSAUD IN CONVERSATION
 
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.rajpersaud.android.rajpersaud
 
 
From the Cambridge University Press Website:
 
Why do we punish, and why do we forgive? Are these learned behaviors, or is there something deeper going on? This book argues that there is indeed something deeper going on, and that our essential response to the killers, rapists, and other wrongdoers among us has been programmed into our brains by evolution. Using evidence and arguments from neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, Morris B. Hoffman traces the development of our innate drives to punish - and to forgive - throughout human history. He describes how, over time, these innate drives became codified into our present legal systems and how the responsibility and authority to punish and forgive was delegated to one person - the judge - or a subset of the group - the jury. Hoffman shows how these urges inform our most deeply held legal principles and how they might animate some legal reforms.
 
Reviews & endorsements
 
'A thought-provoking and engaging look at one of the oldest questions in morality and law - what is the point of punishment? With advances in the biological study of human nature, increased awareness of long-term historical progress in our attitudes toward retribution, and new concerns about current incarceration practices, this is an especially timely and important book.' Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Blank Slate and The Better Angels of Our Nature
 
 
A related article from The Huffington Post which may be of interest:
 

Does 'Pure Evil' Exist? Psychologists Investigate the Devils (and Angels) Amongst Us

 

Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham

 

 

Are these examples of pure evil? Anders Breivik bombed buildings in 2011 killing eight people, then shot 69 others, mostly teenagers. He showed no remorse and took pride in his actions. In May 2013, three women and one six-year-old girl were rescued from kidnapper, Ariel Castro, having been held in captivity for around a decade in the USA. Following over 900 criminal counts, he killed himself just one month into a prison term of 1,000 years.

 

Psychologists Russell Webster and Donald Saucier have just published the most comprehensive scientific investigation into our beliefs over whether unadulterated wickedness exists. One interpretation is that accepting the existence of 'Pure Evil', reveals the true nature of deepest malevolence itself.

 

Those who believe in 'Pure Evil' consider bad or criminal behaviour is wilful, conscious and driven primarily by the wish to inflict harm, merely often for pleasure.

 

The psychologists, based at North Central College and Kansas State University in the USA point out that the 'Belief in Pure Evil' holds profound consequences for believers. As there would be no point in being patient, tolerant and understanding, when confronted with unalloyed villainy, then the only response should be eliminating such evil-doers, even if extreme actions are required.

 

If you believe in 'Pure Evil', you also deem that evil-doers will implacably continue being dangerous. This necessarily follows if certain culprits are indeed the embodiment of undiluted viciousness. On both sides of conflict, if each sees the other side as 'evil', this inevitably results in reciprocal and escalating prejudice with violence.

 

Perhaps scientists had been reluctant to study evil before because it seems religious, yet Russell Webster and Donald Saucier point out that cultures all over the world and throughout history, have a surprisingly similar "personal archetype of evil". This includes the conviction that "behind evil actions must lie evil individuals".

 

Their study entitled Angels and Demons Are Among Us: Assessing Individual Differences in Belief in Pure Evil and Belief in Pure Good, focused on the shape of malevolence in people's minds. The research found beliefs over the existence of 'Pure Evil' could reveal key aspects of character.

 

The series of investigations involving hundreds of participants found believing that others can be completely immoral, in turn leads to more aggressive plus hostile attitudes and behaviour. Believers in the existence of 'Pure Evil' are more pessimistic generally, see the world as a more vile and dangerous place, are more opposed to equality, endorse torture, the death penalty and pre-emptive military aggression.

 

Believers in 'Pure Evil' consider that trying to understand evil is futile, because 'Pure Evil' is a deeply ingrained part of character, and understanding will only foster greater empathizing with perpetrators, condoning their harmful behaviour.

 

This most comprehensive investigation, to date, into our views on deep malevolence, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, also found 'Belief in Pure Evil' was not associated with being religious.

 

Instead another conviction - the 'Belief in Pure Good' was. It appears from this study that those who believe in 'Pure Good' are fundamentally different from those who believe in 'Pure Evil'.

 

Believers in 'Pure Good' accept the existence of pure altruism, that some people, though rare, intentionally help others just for the sake of helping, with no personal benefit or hidden agenda. They also judge that even the most ghastly perpetrators - ie wayward criminals, can see "the error of their ways" and reform, ie they are not 'Purely Evil'. Those who more strongly believed in 'Pure Good', supported criminal rehabilitation and opposed the death penalty.

 

Those who score higher in 'Belief in Pure Good' are more likely to believe that doing good means not harming others (unless one's country or allies are directly endangered). People scoring higher in 'Belief in Pure Evil' feel that pre-emptive violence and aggression are justified to root out evil-doers.

 

'Belief in Pure Good' was associated strongly with being religious, as well as those reporting more secular volunteering. The authors speculated that 'Belief in Pure Evil' and religiosity were not as strongly associated as might be expected, because organized religions may recently be downplaying the role of battling evil. But perhaps the sample studied did not contain enough evangelical or fundamentalist participants.

 

Believing strongly in 'Pure Good' was related to less aggression, supporting diplomacy over violence as an approach to foreign affairs, and being against torture.

 

Russell Webster and Donald Saucier point out that part of the belief in 'Pure Good' is that it surely cannot be corrupted by the forces of evil. 'Pure Good' can resist temptations over joining the "dark side" (using 'Star Wars' terminology).

 

Yet apparent do-gooders like Mother Theresa and Gandhi, may have had their reputations tarnished in recent years by various re-evaluations, casting doubt that both these characters, (and many others apparently 'Purely Good'), were in fact as virtuous as first thought.

 

This modern drive to doubt that 'Pure Good' really does exist, could have grave and far-reaching implications, in terms of our pessimism about each other.

 

Doubting 'Pure Good' exists may justify people's apathy over helping others: If 'everybody is selfish', then theoretically we need not feel guilty about our own self-interested behaviour, or endeavour to be more helpful.

 

Believers in 'Pure Good' tended to think more deeply about the causes for other's behaviour, while believers in 'Pure Evil' scored significantly lower on this.

 

So, do you know of selfless good work epitomizing pure good ("angels")? Or are you aware of others who because of their selfish hostility appear to display pure evil ("demons")?

 

If you believe 'angels' and 'demons' live amongst us, that pure good and pure evil exist, this conviction has just been found by this research to profoundly influence your own behaviour and outlook on life.

 

If you believe in 'Pure Evil' it seems you are not convinced 'Pure Good' exists - perhaps because you suppose it will be overcome by 'Pure Evil'. If you feel there is 'Pure Good', then it appears you tend not to accept 'Pure Evil'; maybe you consider 'Pure Good' will triumph over 'Evil'.

 

If you believe in 'Pure Evil' you are more likely to react aggressively to wrong-doing, while if you deem 'Pure Good' exists, you're more optimistic about human nature, and believe that the bad can change, supporting programmes that see the better side of people.

 

One interpretation of this study is that Believers in 'Pure Good' and 'Pure Evil' end up behaving a bit like the angels and demons they perceive as existing in the world.

 

We become the very Demons and Angels we think exist.

 

We make them come true.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Are we all narcissists now? 'The Americanization of Narcissism'

Are we all narcissists now?

 

Discussing her new book with psychiatrist Raj Persaud, Professor Elizabeth Lunbeck explains 'The Americanization of Narcissism' published by Harvard University Press.

 

This is an important tome because it critically tackles the way the modern age thinks of itself. 

 

Lunbeck identifies some key moments in the notion that this is a particularly narcissistic age. One seems to be the publication of Christopher Lasch’s ‘Culture of Narcissism’, while another is Jimmy Carter’s late 1970’s, so called ‘malaise’ speech, which was a critique of modern North America. 

 

Lunbeck documents that the popular media seems to have got somewhat obsessed with the idea we are more narcissistic than ever before, but she also points out that psychoanalysts contend, there is this thing called healthy narcissism. 

 

We seem currently caught between two ideas – that high self-esteem is good for you but narcissism is bad? Are these contradictory positions resolvable?

 

We also now seem to believe that wealth inevitably leads to narcissism? And also that capitalism inexorably encourages narcissism? 

 

Given that narcissists are generally found good company and attractive, is it possible that the real problem is the 'failed' narcissist? 

 

There is also an important chapter in the book on identity  - perhaps what is genuinely different about the modern age is we are freer to choose our identity more than ever before? 

 

Is there a national anxiety about this?

 

To purchase this fascinating book visit these sites:

 

http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674724860

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Americanization-Narcissism-Elizabeth-Lunbeck/dp/0674724860

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dr-Raj-Persaud-Latest-Users/dp/B0082XNF40

 

 

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

 

'I Should Like to Thank the Academy...' - The Psychology of Acceptance Speeches at the Oscars

 

Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/the-oscars-psychology_b_4886414.html

 

http://rajpersaud.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/i-should-like-to-thank-the-academy-the-psychology-of-acceptance-speeches-at-the-oscars-raj-persaud-and-peter-bruggen/

 

A recent study by Cheryl Morrier at Adelphi University, USA, investigated student and semi-professional female and male actors. Actors emerged as significantly more narcissistic than the general population. Entitled 'Success in acting: The roles of narcissism, depression and attractiveness', the research found the more narcissistic actors were also more physically attractive.

 

So those most in love with themselves maybe had partly an objective reason to be so?

 

Narcissism consists of feeling superior to everyone else, accompanied by a sense of entitlement to success and accolades.

 

Possibly the highest concentration of narcissism in the world each year assembles on the red carpet at the Oscars ceremony, because narcissists believe they are special people deserving of fame and recognition. As a result they tend to pursue careers where they are the centre of attention. Narcissists suffer an unrequited need for admiration, so their choice of work usually serves these ends. But after a while, they become difficult to bear because they are so grandiose, self-centred and demanding.

 

Narcissists are great on a first date but terrible at marriage.

 

It is precisely because they tend to score low on being team-players that they become eventually unpopular with those close to them. This might also partly explain the notoriously high divorce and relationship breakdown rate in Hollywood.

 

So a hidden pressure of Oscar night is the psychological tightrope narcissists tread on the red carpet. Convention requires they give an acceptance speech which thanks others and indicates humility - acknowledging the contribution of colleagues to their own success.

 

But deep down do narcissists really believe this?

 

Yet they must give an acceptance speech which makes them look good. So they should appear surprised at winning when the cameras turn to them, and they mustn't seem bitter at losing. Acting humble serves the inevitable narcissistic project of seeking admiration.

 

They mustn't in their acceptance speech, at all costs, inadvertently go over to the 'dark side'. Psychologists refer to the 'dark triad' of personality features likely to be found in this group as being manipulative (acting humble), psychopathic (no remorse over back-stabbing) and narcissistic (self-obsession).

 

A clue as to how difficult is the paradox narcissists must confront in the acceptance speech comes from a recent study entitled 'Are Narcissists Sexy? Zeroing in on the Effect of Narcissism on Short-Term Mate Appeal'. 61 single hetero-sexual men were asked to approach on the street 25 women whom they would genuinely like to get to know better.

 

The men had the aim to gather personal contact information from the women. In the experiment, published in the journal, 'Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin', research assistants debriefed the women after the study, collecting ratings about the man and the interaction. The higher the approaching man scored on narcissism, the more personal contacts they received from unacquainted women, and the more appealing they were rated by these women.

 

The authors of the study, Michael Dufner , John Rauthmann, Anna Czarna and Jaap Denissen found that it was the social boldness and their tendency to 'self-enhance' while in conversation that explained their greater appeal for a romantic relationship. So 'bigging yourself up' in fact does seem to make you more attractive - at least in the shorter term.

 

Psychologists Robert Raskin and Robert Shaw, then at the University of California at Berkeley, found those who score higher on narcissism tend to use more first-person-singular pronouns (words like 'I', 'me' and 'myself') compared to other pronouns. So this study entitled 'Narcissism and the use of personal pronouns', published in theJournal of Personality, suggests that how narcissistic the actor giving the acceptance speech really is, despite their best efforts to manipulatively hide it, may be revealed by how often they use first person singular pronouns.

 

Perhaps a new psychology game on Oscar night is for the audience to count the number of references to 'I', 'me' and 'myself', as the acceptance speaker apparently eats humble pie.

 

A study entitled, 'I'd Like to Thank the Academy, Team Spillovers, and Network Centrality', analysed films released between 1936 and 2005, used Academy Award nominations for acting, to investigate how much an actor really owes their success in the Oscars to colleagues and collaborations.

 

The authors of the study, Gabriel Rossman, Nicole Esparza and Phillip Bonacich, argue that narcissists might be right - it could be their 'star power' which determines whether they get an Oscar or not. Star power might be measured by prominence in credits and billing on Film Posters for example.

 

The study published in American Sociological Review found actors' billing could be vital. For example, Judi Dench had only eight minutes of screen time in the filmShakespeare in Love (1998), but nonetheless was one of only five names on the film's poster, and she won an Oscar for her performance as Queen Elizabeth I.

 

The rank order in credits, the authors of the study argue, represents a casting director's estimate of an actor's star power and bargaining clout in negotiating rank. It's therefore a good measure of status.

 

However, there is competing theory which is that it's working with the right people which helps you get the Oscar.

 

The authors of the study, based at the University of California - Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, consider the actor Robert Forster, who had a long but mostly obscure career as a character actor. Yet in 1998 he was nominated for the best supporting actor Oscar for the role of bail bondsman Max Cherry in the movieJackie Brown (1997). The film was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino who had previously been nominated for best director and best original screenplay (winning the latter) for Pulp Fiction (1994).

 

Forster's co-stars included prior nominees Samuel L. Jackson and Robert DeNiro. Forster's career apparently immediately returned to relative obscurity after Jackie Brown, demonstrating how much his nomination for that film benefited from Tarantino, Jackson, and DeNiro.

 

However, even actors who are themselves major stars may benefit from working with strong teams, argue the authors of the study.

 

Leonardo DiCaprio might be an A-list actor, but his first nomination came from collaboration with an Academy-nominated director (Lasse Hallstrom) and his second from collaboration with Hollywood's top director (Martin Scorsese) and an Academy-nominated writer (John Logan).

 

The study found star power did have an effect on Academy Award success, but that the prestige and merits of a film actor's collaborators, particularly the writer and director, greatly increased chances for Academy recognition.

 

The authors of the study conclude that there is a very good reason that Academy Award acceptance speeches are so long--they should be - an actor's collaborators might be largely responsible for the achievement.

 

On the other hand, maybe the narcissists have the last laugh - you earn good team-mates by being seen as worthy of them.

 

But before we look down on narcissists and their mind games, perhaps due humility would suggest we all acknowledged the role of others in any success of ours.

 

Yet how often do we do that?

 

Read more on the hidden psychology of the Academy Awards:

http://rajpersaud.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/hidden-psychology-of-the-academy-awards-reveals-a-bias-against-actresses-by-raj-persaud-and-adrian-furnham/

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/oscars-2013-bias-against-actresses_b_2757259.html

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Motivated-Mind-Raj-Persaud/dp/0553813455/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411993712&sr=1-1&keywords=the+motivated+mind

 

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


When planes go missing. Psychology explains missing Malaysian Airlines Jet?

Should the mental health of pilots be of more concern? 

Dr Raj Persaud in conversation with Professor Robert Bor - a Professor of Aviation Psychology

Pilot suicide has been implicated in the controversy surrounding the missing Malaysian Airlines Jet and one of the foremost world authorities on pilot psychology, Professor Robert Bor, discusses with Raj Persaud the nature of Pilot Suicide.

 

 

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Aviation-Mental-Health-Psychological-Transportation/dp/0754643719/ref=sr_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411244735&sr=1-12&keywords=robert+bor

 

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

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/pilot-suicide_b_5027742.html

 

How Likely Is Pilot Suicide a Cause of the Malaysian Airlines Crash - In the Opinion of Mental Health Experts?

Dr Raj Persaud and Dr Peter Bruggen

The current theory apparently being promoted by officials is that the crash of the Malaysian plane may have been an act of suicide, most probably by a pilot.

 

But do mental health experts agree that this is the most likely explanation of this deepening mystery?

 

Professor Robert Bor is a Clinical and Specialist Aviation psychologist, co-editing with Todd Hubbard, the key book on the subject of pilot mental health: entitled 'Aviation Mental Health'. It is published by Ashgate.

 

The book considers the psychological assessment, management, treatment and care of pilots as well as other professional groups within aviation.

 

Professor Bor, in response to the latest theory of pilot suicide in the case of the Malaysian Airlines Jet, is careful not to rule out the suicide possibility, but cautions that this is incredibly rare. When it happens, it is much more commonly in private pilots, who are not licensed to carry passengers.

 

But Professor Bor concedes that incidents involving commercial pilots are not unknown, and he points to the example of an Air Botswana pilot, who in 1999 crashed his plane into other aircraft on the ground of an airport in an apparent suicide mission.

 

The act appeared to be by a disgruntled employee, angry with the airline and his employers, wanting to take revenge. This suggests that if a commercial pilot kills themselves in this way, grievance towards the airline could be a key motivation.

 

This is probably being covertly investigated right now in the Malaysian Airlines case.

 

The Air Botswana pilot flew a commercial plane without permission and without passengers. He may have been angry and despairing that he had been grounded due to ill health. He may have thought he was never going to fly again. During negotiations with the tower, as he flew around the airport, he was said to have threatened to fly into the Air Botswana Office Building.

 

Within 24 hours of the Air Malaysian Flight going missing, Professor Bor explains that inquiries into the backgrounds of the two pilots would have been initiated, to investigate a similar suicide motive.

 

He elaborates that investigations into the pilots' mental health profiles would review spending patterns, possible relationship difficulties, drug use and any other behavioural disturbances.

 

But the Air Botswana incident involved a key life event, being grounded and discovery of a career-threatening health problem, none of which appears to have yet emerged in the Malaysian scenario. This reduces the possible likelihood of suicide, in Professor Bor's opinion. However, he concedes anything, at this stage, is possible. 

Another problem with the suicide theory is that, in the Air Botswana case, as reported by sources quoted by Reuters news agency, the pilot threatened suicide not just during the flight itself: he had repeatedly warned authorities that he was going to kill himself.

 

Professor Bor points out, 'no one wakes up one morning and suddenly decides to kill themselves', usually the intent emerges over a longer time. Yet given pilots are probably the most scrutinised profession on earth, it seems unlikely that even minor aberrations would have gone undetected before.

 

Commercial pilots don't just have frequent medical checks, they are being closely observed by colleagues on the flight deck as well as by other professionals, during, before and after flights. (Some planes haven't been allowed to leave the ground because the dispatcher smelt alcohol on the breath of a pilot.)

 

Professor Bor points to another case which may provide clues as to what happened.

 

In 1994, a Federal Express cargo Flight flying across the USA became the victim of an attempted hi-jacking by an employee facing dismissal. He boarded as a passenger with a case hiding several hammers. He intended to disable the aircraft's systems so that events were not properly recorded and, once airborne, to kill the crew using the hammers so injuries would appear caused by the crash. The plan was then to collide the aircraft, so the perpetrator would appear just another employee killed in an accident. His family would become eligible for a $2.5 million Federal Express life insurance policy.

 

But despite severe injuries, the crew fought back, restrained the perpetrator and landed the plane safely.

 

Dr Jennifer Morse, a consultant in Aerospace Psychiatry and Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at University of California San Diego Medical School, co-authored with Professor Robert Bor the chapter on the mental health of pilots in the book 'Aviation Mental Health'.

 

In their joint chapter they draw attention to Egypt Air Flight 990 which crashed in 1990, and where the relief first officer was recorded as saying 'I rely on God' just before disengaging the autopilot. He then went on to make the statement 11 times during the plane's impending crash, without any apparent emotion. While suicide seems the most likely cause, the precise motive remains mysterious.

Morse and Bor report an estimate between 0.72% and 2.4% of general aviation accidents are as a result of pilot suicide, and a history of psychiatric or domestic problems have been found in such post-crash inquiries and investigations.

 

Morse and Bor point out that one possible reason why a commercial suicidal pilot might choose to crash their plane, is that the evidence it was a suicide might be thus destroyed, so protecting their family, and the memory of the pilot, from the 'shame' of suicide. 

 

Using the plane as the instrument of death might also be psychologically entwined with resentment against the stress of the job, or grudges against the airline employer.

 

But Professor Bor also points out that psychology is crucially involved in the search for the plane and investigation of the cause, given the danger of a psychological phenomenon termed 'confirmation bias'.

 

Confirmation Bias occurs when you've already made your mind up and this biases the way you approach the evidence. The search for this plane may have been fatally hampered by a series of 'confirmation biases'.

 

It's vital, Professor Bor argues, that crash investigators remain open-minded and don't start looking merely for confirmation of a prior held theory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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


Russia abuses psychiatry. Russia Returns to Political Abuse of Psychiatry?

Is Psychiatry a Political Tool of the State?

 

Why are professional psychiatric organisations in the rest of the world reluctant to be critical of Russian Psychiatry, when it abuses diagnosis and turns it into a political tool?

 

A new paper in the academic journal 'International Psychiatry' published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists explores the issue: 'Is there a resumption of political psychiatry in the former Soviet Union?' by Robert van Voren

 

http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/PUB_IPv11n3.pdf

 

Robert van Voren (1959) is Chief Executive of the Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry (FGIP) and Professor of Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies at Ilia State University in Tbilisi (Georgia) and at the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas (Lithuania). He is a Sovietologist by education and graduated from Amsterdam University (modern and theoretical history + Russian language) in 1986, and defended his doctoral dissertation in Kaunas (Lithuania) in October 2010. 


Starting in 1977 he became active in the Soviet human rights movement. For many years he traveled to the USSR as a courier, delivering humanitarian aid and smuggling out information on the situation in camps, prisons and psychiatric hospitals. The information was used in Western campaigns for the release of Soviet dissidents. Van Voren led the international campaigns against the political abuse of psychiatry in the USSR, as well as in defense of individual political prisoners such as Irina Grivnina and Anatoly Koryagin. He also organized eight annual Sakharov Congresses in Amsterdam as a contribution to the campaign to bring about the release of this Nobel Peace Prize winner.

 

In 1980 Robert van Voren co-founded the International Association on Political Use of Psychiatry (the predecessor of GIP) and became its General Secretary in 1986. He was Director of the Second World Center in Amsterdam and board member of many organizations in the field of human rights and mental health.

 

In 1997 Robert van Voren was elected Honorary Fellow of the British Royal College of Psychiatrists, and in 2003 he was given Lithuanian citizenship in recognition of his contribution to a democratic Lithuanian State. In 2005 he was knighted in the Order of Oranje-Nassau on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of GIP. Van Voren has written extensively on Soviet issues and, in particular, issues related to mental health and human rights, and published more than a dozen of books.

FROM THE EUROPEAN UNION OFFICIAL DOCUMENT:

PSYCHIATRY AS A TOOL FOR COERCION IN POST-SOVIET 

COUNTRIES 

Abstract

During the 1960-1980s in the USSR, psychiatry was turned into a tool of repression. Soviet psychiatry was cut off from world psychiatry and developed its own - highly institutional and biologically oriented – course, providing at the same time a “scientific justification” for declaring dissidents mentally ill. Since the collapse of the USSR there have been frequent reports of persons hospitalized for non-medical reasons, mostly in the Russian Federation and Ukraine. 

 

 

The abuses are caused by an underdeveloped mental health profession with little knowledge of medical ethics and professional responsibilities of physicians; by a system that is highly abusive and not able to guarantee the rights of patients; because of corrupt societies where also psychiatric diagnoses are for sale; because of lack of financing and interest by the authorities and in some cases because of a deteriorating political climate in which local authorities feel safe to use psychiatry again as a tool of repression. 

 

 

Through targeted interventions from outside the situation could be considerably ameliorated and a clear break with the past could be made possible. In this respect the European Parliament can play a crucial role in empowering those who wish to make a clear break with the Soviet past.

 

Is there a resumption of political psychiatry in the former Soviet Union?

 

Robert van Voren

 

INTERNATIONAL PSYCHIATRY VOLUME 11 NUMBER 3 AUGUST 2014

 

http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/PUB_IPv11n3.pdf

 

ABSTRACT

 

After the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis in 

the spring of 2014, the former Soviet Union 

again became front-page news. The sequence 

of events led to an atmosphere reminiscent of 

the Cold War. In Russia itself it led to a hunt 

for ‘national traitors’ and ‘foreign agents’ and 

observers both inside the country and abroad 

fear a return to Soviet-style repression. For the 

outside world this may come as a surprise, but 

human rights activists have been ringing the 

alarm bells for a few years. Ever since Vladimir 

Putin took power, the human rights situation 

has deteriorated. One of the warning signs was 

the return of the use of psychiatry for political 

purposes, to ‘prevent’ social or political activism 

or to ostracise an activist.

 

A RELATED ARTICLE IN THE HUFFINGTON POST WHICH MAY BE OF INTEREST

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/ameila-earhart_b_4964304.html

 

Does the Disappearance of Ameila Earhart's Aeroplane, and Similar Enigmas, Reveal Your Psychology?

 
RAJ PERSAUD
 
When puzzling things happen which cannot be readily explained by official accounts - how does the public decide what to believe? What you end up accepting as true, about what really happened when a plane goes missing, for example, might reveal more about your personality, than you realise.

New research has examined in unprecedented detail the public's beliefs over the disappearance of famous aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan, 70 years ago. This remains one of the most notorious flight disappearances. Speculation over what happened to their missing plane has spawned a small industry in books and theories.

Psychologists investigating pubic beliefs about what truly happened to Amelia Earhart have now found that conjecture over similar events, is associated with your intelligence, and even how agreeable your personality is.

Amelia Earhart, was an aviation pioneer, the first woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross; setting numerous aviation records. In 1937 Earhart attempted to fly around the world with second navigator Fred Noonan. On July 2, Earhart and Noonan departed from Lae, New Guinea, destined for Howland Island in the central Pacific Ocean. But radio transmission with them was lost, and, despite an unprecedented search, no physical evidence of Earhart, Noonan, or their aircraft was found.

Explanations for the disappearance range from those generally accepted by researchers and historians (that they ran out of fuel and crashed at sea, or landed on an uninhabited island), to unsupported claims (that Earhart and Noonan were in fact spying on the Japanese in the Pacific), to the bizarre (that they landed safely and assumed new identities or were abducted by aliens).

Viren Swami and Adrian Furnham investigated the beliefs, over what really happened to Amelia Earhart's missing plane, of 433 women and 481 men from London.

The study entitled 'Examining Conspiracist Beliefs About the Disappearance of Amelia Earhart', found that only 32% of participants in fact selected the most plausible explanation, as ranked by experts with knowledge about Earhart or aviation history. This theory is that their aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed at sea, not far from Howland Island.

The research published in 'The Journal of General Psychology', found just under 13% of the public shun this most accepted view, and believe instead that the pair survived the flight, returned to the United States, and assumed new identities (a theory deemed relatively implausible by historians), while 4.5% believed that Earhart and Noonan were abducted by aliens.

Almost 10% of the public believe Earhart and Noonan intentionally downed their aircraft near Japanese occupied territory, so that the US Navy could spy on the Japanese during the subsequent rescue mission, and were safely picked up by the Navy.

When official or mainstream accounts struggle to account for a significant event, so-called 'conspiracy theories' offer alternative explanations.

Conspiracy theories might offer a voice for the powerless or disadvantaged, particularly during crises when mainstream accounts have become erroneous or unreliable - a chink in the armour of the oppressors.

On the other hand, 'conspiracy theories' may serve to bolster self-esteem - 'I'm cleverer than the official man on TV because I can work out what's really going on'. The ability to express an arresting alternative account might impress an audience, and gain attention as well as respect socially.

But do such alternative theories about what really happened merely reveal the believer to be paranoid?

This study suggests it is personality and other psychological traits that are associated with conspiracist ideas.

Perhaps the more mistrustful believe in a vast, insidious, effective international conspiratorial network, perpetrating fiendish acts. Evidence that believing in conspiracy theories simply means more paranoia, rather than deeper insight, comes from studies which find those who subscribe to conspiracy theories, are more likely to start believing plots that are definitely fictional. These are conspiracy theories that have been made-up for the purposes of conducting psychology experiments on them, but do not in fact exist outside the laboratory.

Previous psychological research has found that being attracted to conspiracy type theories, for example, over what really happened when a plane goes missing, might be associated with greater alienation from those around you, more distrust in authority, elevated political cynicism, a deeper sense of powerlessness and lower self-esteem.

The new study, from authors based at University College London and the University of Westminster, on what people consider really happened to Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, found that believing in less plausible, or less accepted, theories was associated with your personality being more 'disagreeable', which means your character could be more suspicious and antagonistic.

The study also found that that trust in less reputable explanations for the disappearance of the plane was associated with faith in other conspiracies, and possibly with lower intelligence.

It has been suggested that the more simplified explanations of complex phenomena offered by conspiracy theories, are more readily accepted by those with lower intellectual ability.

Perhaps the most sobering finding of the Amelia Earhart study is that only 32% of participants selected the most plausible explanation for her missing plane, as ranked by Earhart or aviation experts.

This minority might indicate a significant, and even growing gap, between official or expert accounts of mysterious or unexplained phenomena, and what the public believe.

One should be cautioned against drawing links between the Amelia Earhart example and the missing Malaysian Airlines Jet, as they are very different types of event.

But Governments are concerned about the spread of rumours, when official explanations struggle to convince. This can cause panic, undermining public confidence in leaders and social order. 'Someone's suppressing the truth' begins to grow as a conviction explaining this type of enigma.

So significant puzzles that gain world attention, even after the mystery is resolved, could have wider repercussions.

Perhaps missing planes and similar incidents are evidence that the authorized versions of reality need to be scrutinised a lot more closely, than we would otherwise routinely feel comfortable, given how much we rely on official reassurance over what is safe, and what isn't.

It's only if we are prepared to confront this discomfort, that we might discover, the truth is not always as it is presented.

 

WANT TO LISTEN TO THIS ON YOUR MOBILE PHONE OR DEVICE? DOWNLOAD THE FREE APP - Raj Persaud in Conversation

 

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.rajpersaud.android.rajpersaud

 

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_0064.mp3
Category:(2) General Podcasts -- posted at: 12:00pm UTC

Funeral Mania explained. Is there such a thing as 'Funeral Mania'?

It is said some go high at funerals - is this a real phenomenon?

Raj Persaud in Conversation with Katherine Keyes. 

Katherine Keyes is Associate Professor of Epidemiology Columbia University and with serveral colleagues had published a study in the 'American Journal of Psychiatry' investigating what happens when people suffer one of the worst stresses of all - the unexpected death of a loved one. She talks to Consultant Psychiatrist Raj Persaud about her study which with colleagues appears to have verified there really is such a thing as 'Funeral Mania'.

The Burden of Loss: Unexpected Death of a Loved One and Psychiatric Disorders Across the Life Course in a National Study

Katherine M. Keyes, Ph.D.; Charissa Pratt, M.P.H.; Sandro Galea, M.D., Dr.P.H.; Katie A. McLaughlin, Ph.D.; Karestan C. Koenen, Ph.D.; M. Katherine Shear, M.D.

Am J Psychiatry 2014;171:864-871. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.13081132

Abstract

Objective  Unexpected death of a loved one is common and associated with subsequent elevations in symptoms of multiple forms of psychopathology. Determining whether this experience predicts novel onset of psychiatric disorders and whether these associations vary across the life course has important clinical implications. The authors examined associations of a loved one’s unexpected death with first onset of common anxiety, mood, and substance use disorders in a population-based sample.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dr-Raj-Persaud-Latest-Users/dp/B0082XNF40

 

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

 

 

Do Near Death Experiences Finally Confirm the After-life?

RAJ PERSAUD AND PETER BRUGGEN

A new near death experience study, widely reported in the media this week, found high levels of brainwaves at the point of death in rats. Published in the journalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the University of Michigan research discovered in the 30-second period after the rodent's hearts stopped beating, there was a sharp increase in high-frequency brainwaves.

'Near death experience' or NDE research remains a key divide between religion and science - can consciousness function independently of the human body, and therefore, survive bodily death? Could this then prove the existence of a 'soul', and confirm ghosts, plus other paranormal or spiritual phenomena?

A near death experience is defined as unusual recollections associated with a period of unconsciousness during either serious illness or injury, or resuscitation from a cardiac or respiratory arrest. Some people who might have been technically dead, seem to report experiences 'near or beyond death'.

Dean Mobbs from the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge and Caroline Watt from the University of Edinburgh Department of Psychology, recently published a paper entitled, There is nothing paranormal about near-death experiences: how neuroscience can explain seeing bright lights, meeting the dead, or being convinced you are one of them, which vigorously rejects any spiritual account.

Published in the journal 'Trends in Cognitive Sciences', Dean Mobbs and Caroline Watt explain that while 3% of Americans declare near-death experiences, such as feeling the soul leaving the body, approaching a bright light and entering another reality, where love and bliss are all encompassing, there are other scientific accounts for all these phenomena.

They report over 50% of those who recount near-death experiences were not in fact in that much mortal danger, so a serious problem for the spiritual account is that, for many experiencers, NDE's aren't revealing what happens near death, but merely what happens when one believes one is in danger of dying.

The lead author of the rat study so widely reported this week, Dr Jimo Borjigin, suggested that the dying brain was also not shutting down as might be expected, but instead, "If anything, it is much more active during the dying process than even the waking state."

Dean Mobbs and Caroline Watt also point out that psychiatric phenomena such as 'Cotard' or 'walking corpse' syndrome, named after the French neurologist Jules Cotard, which results in the feeling and conviction of being dead, could explain some of the peculiar sensations reported in Near Death Experiences.

Mobbs and Watt report that in NDEs, 50% experience being dead, 24% said that they had had an out-of-body experience, 31% remembered moving through a tunnel, and 32% reported meeting with deceased people. Mobbs and Watt contend that electrical stimulation of brain regions can result in a sense of presence (i.e. someone is standing behind us). Meeting deceased people could therefore be hallucinations due to compensatory over-activation in brain structures near areas damaged by whatever is causing death.

But other academics vigorously disagree with Mobbs and Watts attempts to explain Near Death Experiences invoking a purely scientific or non-spiritual account.

For example, in a paper entitled Seeing Dead People Not Known to Have Died: "Peak in Darien" Experiences, Bruce Greyson from the Division of Perceptual Studies, Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, University of Virginia Health System, argues that in his collection of 665 NDEs, 138 (21%) included a purported meeting with a deceased person, whereas only 25 (4%) included an encounter with a living human.

While this discrepancy might be viewed as evidence of post-mortem survival of the persons seen, it might also be no more than an expression of the dying person's expectations of imminent death.

But Bruce Greyson points out that more troubling for the scientific account of Near Death Experiences is where those on their deathbeds see, and often express surprise at meeting, a recently deceased person, of whose death neither they nor anyone around them had any knowledge. This excludes the possibility that the vision was a hallucination related to the experiencer's expectations.

Such NDEs are termed "Peak in Darien" cases, after a book by that name published in 1882 by Frances Power Cobbe. The title is taken from a John Keats poem describing the shock of the Spaniards, who, after scaling a peak in Darien (in what is now Panama), expect to see a continent, but are confronted instead with another ocean.

Bruce Greyson reports in his paper, published in the academic journal 'Anthropology and Humanism', many examples, including that of Physician K. M. Dale who related the case of 9-year-old Eddie Cuomo, whose fever finally broke after nearly 36 hours of anxious vigil on the part of his parents and hospital personnel. As soon as he opened his eyes, at 3:00 in the morning, Eddie related that he had been to heaven, where he saw his deceased Grandpa Cuomo, Auntie Rosa, and Uncle Lorenzo. Then Eddie added that he also saw his 19-year-old sister Teresa, who told him he had to go back. His father became agitated, because he had spoken with Teresa, who was attending college in Vermont, just two nights ago. Later that morning, Eddie's parents learned that Teresa had been killed in an automobile accident just after midnight, and that college officials had tried unsuccessfully to reach the Cuomos at their home.

Bruce Greyson relates many other examples, including cases in which the deceased person seen was someone whom the experiencer had never known. For example, Greyson reports cardiologist Maurice Rawlings describing the case of a 48-year-old man who had a cardiac arrest. In a NDE he perceived a gorge full of beautiful colours, where he met both his stepmother and his biological mother, who had died when he was 15 months old. His father had remarried soon after his biological mother's death, and this person had never even seen a photo of her. A few weeks after this episode, his aunt, having heard about this vision, brought a picture of his mother with a number of other people. The man picked his mother out of the group, to the astonishment of his father.

In response to Bruce Greyson's critique that the non-spiritual account of near death experiences ignores difficult to explain phenomena as above, Dean Mobbs points out that such cases Greyson has marshalled are all anecdotal reports, and therefore difficult to rigorously verify.

The spiritual understanding of what happens to us differs from the scientific view because it places greater faith in human experience, and these death-bed stories. Science demands proof that comes from brain scanners, replication and precise measurement.

But because these extraordinary accounts will always exist, does that mean religion will forever survive the onslaught of science?

Or could it be that our first proper glimpse of heaven will instead shortly arrive from a brain scan?

 

 

 

 

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


Are delusions that irrational?

How do you know when you are being irrational?

 

Raj Persaud in conversation with Lisa Bortolotti a Professor of Philosophy interested in delusions and irrationality. Are delusions really that different from other commonly held beliefs? If this is the case then this is a fundamental challenge to psychiatry, as delusions lie at the very heart of the psychiatric understanding of mental illness.

 

Professor Lisa Bortolotti MA (London), BPhil (Oxon), PhD (ANU)


Professor of Philosophy University of Birmingham

A philosopher of the cognitive sciences, focusing on the

philosophy of psychology and psychiatry.

 

Description

Delusions and Other Irrational Beliefs is a contribution to the debate about the nature of delusions and to the literature on the conditions for belief ascription. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This monograph was published by Oxford University Press 
(International Perspectives in Philosophy and Psychiatry series)
in November 2009. It was awarded the American Philosophical Association
 
A symposium on the book appeared in a special issue of Neuroethics (2012).
 
The book was also included in the Current World Literature published by 
Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 24 (6), 2011, and rated as "of outstanding interest"
(category History & Philosophy > Recent developments in naturalizing the mind).
 
From 'Reading about Philosophy of Psychiatry' by Matthew Broome, The Psychiatrist Online, August 2013
"One of the most important works on delusions is Bortolotti’s Delusions and Other Irrational Beliefs, a book that examines the core features of delusions in relation to other mental states, demonstrating that many non-delusional beliefs are not so rational and delusions often differ in degree, rather than kind, from other, non-pathological, beliefs."
 
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Irrational-International-Perspectives-Philosophy-Psychiatry/dp/0199206163/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411245974&sr=1-1&keywords=delusions+irrational

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dr-Raj-Persaud-Latest-Users/dp/B0082XNF40

 

Why Is the Ancient Mayan Prophecy That Today Is the End of the World So Popular?

DR RAJ PERSAUD AND PROFESSOR ADRIAN FURNHAM

According to ancient Mayan Prophecy, today is meant to herald the end of the world. But just in case there is still a world to read this, why are such apocalyptic visions all the rage?

Whether the Mayans actually prophesied the end of the world on this date is indeed controversial - Hollywood and the media appear to have distorted the ancient forecast and, apparently, constructed a fantasy which grips public imagination.

Just a few years ago - in 1999 - the 'Y2K' computer problem was predicted to create such chaos - planes would fall from the sky and populations would be trapped in elevators - that the end of civilisation as we know it - would arrive.

Before that, the nuclear stand-off between superpowers was supposed to herald imminent Armageddon. The thesis that 'mutually assured destruction' is just around the corner is so perennial, psychologists even coined a term 'The Armageddon Complex' - capturing the conviction many harbour, the end of time is nigh.

It seems that every civilisation appears to believe it, uniquely in history, sways on the precipice, and peers over the edge into the abyss.

In the past it may have been world war and nuclear holocaust, viral epidemics, computer malfunction, nanotechnology gone wild, and today it is global warming, which has stepped into the breach of why it's all about to end. If there is a recurrent pattern through history of believing in imminent apocalypse, does this begin to reveal more about our psychology? Or did these convictions mean we backed away from the edge - saving ourselves?

'Apocalypticism' appears linked to certain religious and personality outlooks.

Maurice Farber, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Connecticut published one of the first studies into 'The Armageddon Complex' in the academic journal Public Opinion Quarterly as far back as 1951. Farber explained that the Armageddon Complex is the disposition to believe total war is inevitable. 312 students were asked if they favoured a 'show-down' war with Russia. Desire for nuclear war was positively related to unsatisfactory future outlook for their personal lives.

During World War II, Farber had served in intelligence and psychological warfare units of the US Army in Europe. Possibly the authorities have long had an interest in our obsession with apocalypse, using this to manipulate us. Wars are sold to the public on the basis that they are needed to avoid imminent Armageddon. Remember the '45 minute' weapons of mass destruction invocation that cajoled the public into supporting a war on Iraq?

Stephen Kierulff, a Californian clinical psychologist published a study in 1991 entitled 'Belief in Armageddon Theology and Willingness to Risk Nuclear War', where he refers to 'Armageddonists', who believe that Bible or other religious prophecies about the 'End Time' must be taken literally, and seem to expect nuclear war to fulfil these prophecies.

They seem to be more in favour of a nuclear war and their pro-nuclear sentiment stems (among other sources) from fundamentalist Christianity which affirms Jesus will return to Earth in order to save the human race after a cataclysmic war. Many such 'premillennialists', Kierulff argues in his paper, published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, believe that the 'Last Days' are already upon us, considering that the final war will be global and nuclear.

Kierulff found from his research that the more 'Armageddonist' people's religious beliefs are, the more willing they are to risk a nuclear confrontation with the Soviets, and the more likely they are to believe that they would survive the subsequent nuclear war. As predictors of convictions that the US will attack Russia and that nuclear war is personally survivable, 'Armageddonist' views outperformed any of the indicators used in his study, including political conservatism, suggesting religious, or other certainties about the imminent end of the world has been neglected by pollsters.

Today it is possible 'Armageddonists' no longer consider the apocalypse will arrive following a war between the US and Russia, but now perhaps between Christian and Islamic fundamentalists.

Dr Simon Dein and Professor Roland Littlewood from the Departments of Psychiatry and Anthropology, University College London, wonder about the significance of what might appear to be an increasing number of reports of mass suicide over the last few decades.

In their paper entitled 'Apocalyptic Suicide: From a Pathological to an Eschatological Interpretation' they remind us of the 1978 mass suicide of 914 (including 200 children) by drinking cyanide, amongst Jim Jones's Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana. In 1993, Waco, Texas, seventy-six men, women and children Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh, died after their compound was set alight - though by who remains controversial.

Dein and Littlewood also remind us of the Solar Temple episode of 1994, where over 50 killed themselves simultaneously in Canada and Switzerland, thus apparently 'transiting' to the star Sirius. 16 colleagues died in a related incident in France some months later, while five more committed 'ritual suicide' at the moment of the spring equinox in 1995. In the Heaven's Gate suicide in 1997, 39 followers died from auto-asphyxiation, apparently assuming in the after-life they would join a space ship lurking behind the Hale-Bopp comet.

Among Dien and Littlewood's possible speculations, appears to be that in ancient times we indeed constantly lived on the edge of survival, where bad weather and other environmental hazards could destroy crops, and wipe out communities. So we naturally developed superstitions and rituals which gave us a sense of control over capricious 'gods', hence the development of religion, and possibly, the close link psychologically between religious belief and apocalypse.

The problem is that 'Armageddonism' or 'Apocalypticism' beliefs include strongly self-fulfilling prophetic elements. These convictions appear to drive most political as well as religious extremism, including suicide terrorism.

If you believe the end is neigh, you seem more willing to consider extraordinary or ultimate devices, which in turn, actually hasten your demise.

 

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: Delusions_interview_2_1.mp3
Category:(2) General Podcasts -- posted at: 5:04pm UTC

Psychology of Alan Turing. Was Code-breaker Alan Turing Assassinated?

Controversy continues over how Alan Turing died and why it matters

 

Raj Persaud in conversation with Michael Ferguson discussing the death of Alan Turing

Michael Ferguson lives in San Francisco and is on the editorial board of the Journal of Homosexuality and he does book reviews on a variety of topics having to do with sexuality and cultural history.

 

Michael Ferguson has written a fascinating book review of two recent biographies of the famous mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing - who recently received a royal pardon following his prosecution for homosexuality in the 1950's. Did Turing kill himself with an apple poisoned with cyanide or was it a disguised assassination by the British Secret Security Services who might have become concerned that Turing was a security risk given his homosexuality? MichaelFerguson discusses these issues and others with psychiatrist Raj Persaud. More information is available here: 

http://rajpersaud.wordpress.com/2013/12/25/does-his-psychology-reveal-whether-alan-turing-killed-himself-raj-persaud-and-peter-bruggen

Does His Psychology Reveal whether Alan Turing Killed Himself?

Michael Ferguson's book review reference: Journal of Homosexuality Volume 56, Issue 8, 2009. The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer, by David Leavitt and Alan Turing, the Enigma, by Alan Hodges

 

 

Does His Psychology Reveal Whether Alan Turing Killed Himself

RAJ PERSAUD AND PETER BRUGGEN

Alan Turing has been granted a posthumous Royal Pardon 59 years after his death.

Turing used advanced mathematics to break the Enigma code, revealing the positions of German U-boats during World War II. This ensured the country's survival; Eisenhower is even quoted as declaring that Turing's personal contribution shortened the War by two years.

Following his prosecution for homosexuality and forced chemical castration treatment, controversy dogged his apparent suicide. Did he kill himself, or was he in fact murdered by the secret service? Such agencies are notorious for assassinations disguised as suicides. Turing might have been considered a threat or a security risk, some argue. But even today, homosexual men are found to have significantly higher suicide rates than heterosexual males.

For example in a study of 1,382 Austrian adults, published in 'Archives of Sexual Behaviour', entitled 'The relation between sexual orientation and suicide attempts in Austria', suicide attempts were more frequently reported by those with homosexual or bisexual fantasies, partner preference, behaviour, and self-identification, compared to their heterosexually classified counterparts.

Another recent study, published in the 'Journal of Affective Disorders', and entitled 'Suicidal ideation among young French adults: Association with occupation, family, sexual activity, personal background and drug use', found in a sample of 4075 French adults, that among men, homosexual intercourse was more strongly linked with suicidal thinking than living alone or being unemployed.

Michael Ferguson, in reviewing two recent biographies of Alan Turing's life, concludes that to answer the enigma at the heart of Alan Turing's death, you have to get inside the complex head of the great mathematician.

His book review entitled ''The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer', by David Leavitt and 'Alan Turing, the Enigma', by Alan Hodges'', recently published in the, 'Journal of Homosexuality', considers the circumstances of Turing's death on June 7, 1954.

An apple was found near Turing's deathbed, out of which several bites had been taken. Froth around his mouth was consistent with cyanide poisoning, but according to sources cited by Michael Ferguson, the apple was never analysed. It has therefore never been definitively confirmed that it had been laced with poison, although there was both potassium cyanide and cyanide solution in Alan Turing's house.

Turing did discuss the advantages of various methods of committing suicide on a number of occasions with associates, yet Ferguson believes one of the most telling arguments for suicide was Turing's fascination with the Snow White story. Turing saw the Disney film version and was apparently particularly taken with the scene where the Wicked Witch dangled an apple into a boiling brew of poison as she repeated to herself, "Dip the apple in the brew/Let the Sleeping Death seep through."

Turing reportedly liked to chant the couplet over and over again. This personal signature to the act, Ferguson contends, makes it unlikely to have been accidental, contrary to what his mother long maintained.

Crucial pieces of evidence also derive from his psychoanalytic treatment with Franz Greenbaum; Turing kept three dream notebooks. Greenbaum destroyed them after Turing's death, but allowed Turing's brother, John, to look at them first. Hodges' biography indicates that John Turing apparently read through two of the dream books, where it is said he found various disturbing revelations.

Ferguson also points out that Hodges' biography also relates an intriguing incident - a few weeks before he died he went on a Sunday outing with his psychoanalyst, Franz Greenbaum and his family. They walked along a seaside tourist area and came upon a gypsy fortune teller. Alan Turing went in while the Greenbaum family waited for him outside. When Turing emerged, half an hour later, they reported that he was "white as a sheet, and would not speak another word as they went back to Manchester on the bus"--an interesting superstitious volte face, Ferguson suggests, for a genius with such an advanced understanding of mathematical logic and computer science.

People often go to a fortune teller or clairvoyant when they are troubled about something.

Alan Turing's tendency to be severely logical - beyond the point of social survival - may in the end be what killed him. This can appear as a symptom of Asperger's Syndrome - a form of autism claimed to be associated with mathematicians and computer scientists. Henry O'Connell and Michael Fitzgerald suggest this might be the diagnosis warranted for Turing, in a paper published in the 'Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine'.

The investigation entitled 'Did Alan Turing have Asperger's syndrome?' includes various criteria for Asperger's which Turing met - one being 'Impositions of routines and interests' including the fact he always ate an apple before bed. 

Turing was in fact initially arrested when he reported one of his lovers to the police for breaking into his house and burgling it. The police in turn found out about the sexual affair, and instead of prosecuting the thief, arrested Turing for gross indecency with another male.

Turing played his violin for the detectives and served them wine. His statement left no doubt about his guilt.

He eventually pleaded guilty to "gross indecency" and was placed on probation on condition that he undergo medical treatment. His enforced hormone treatments lasted one year, and caused him to grow breasts. The prosecutor remarked on his unrepentant attitude.

Ferguson doesn't agree with the assessment that these various life events conspired to ensure Turing became overly psychiatrically disturbed towards the end of his life. Ferguson argues Turing's death occurred two years after his trial, and one year after his hormone treatments had ended.

Ferguson points out that as early as 1937, Turing had written a letter to a friend that spoke of feeling depressed and even considering a suicide method involving an apple.

Of course Ferguson agrees that, had Turing not been outed as a homosexual and subjected to public humiliation and the loss of credibility within the country that he was largely responsible for saving, he might not have killed himself.

Ferguson concludes Alan Turing is a compelling example of the high cost of persecuting those who are a bit different, not only to those individuals who suffer its brunt, but also to the society that loses a genius with the creativity and originality of an Alan Turing.

Ironically he saved Britain from an enemy regime which was intolerant of homosexuality and other individual differences, only for Turing himself to suffer at the hands of the bigoted nearer home.

That homosexuality remains linked with higher suicide rates 59 years after Alan Turing's death is an indictment of our society which no Royal Pardon can excuse.

 

 

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


Tolstoy explains Depression. Can Tolstoy help us understand depression?

Did Tolstoy have a special understanding of depression?

 

Raj Persaud in conversation with Professor Jeremy Holmes. Jeremy Holmes is a psychiatrist and Professor of psychotherapy at the University of Exeter.  He is best known for his work in Attachment Theory and its applications to psychotherapy and psychiatry.  He also has written extensively on the relationship between literature and psychiatry,  most recently in his book 'The Therapeutic Imagination: Using literature to deepen psychodynamic understanding and enhance empathy'.

Today we are going to be discussing a paper published by Jeremy entitled ‘Mind reading: Tolstoy’s Oak Tree Metaphor: Depression recovery, and Psychiatric ‘spiritual ecology’ and this paper is being published in the journal ‘Advances in Psychiatric Treatment’

'Tolstoy’s Oak Tree Metaphor: Depression recovery, and Psychiatric ‘spiritual ecology’' - paper published in the journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 

Summary

Tolstoy’s life and work illustrate resilience, the transcendence of trauma, and the

enduring impact of childhood loss. I have chosen the famous ‘oak-tree’ passage

from War and Peace to illustrate recovery from the self-preoccupation of

depression and the theme of ‘eco-spirituality’ – the idea that post-depressive

connectedness and love applies not just to significant others but also to nature and

the environment.

 http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dr-Raj-Persaud-Latest-Users/dp/B0082XNF40

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Therapeutic-Imagination-psychodynamic-understanding/dp/0415819571

 

As Botox Is Found to Treat Clinical Depression, How to Battle Low Mood With Your Face

RAJ PERSAUD AND PETER BRUGGEN

We look upset because we feel distraught. Obvious? 

Maybe the other way round? Does looking sad contribute to low mood? 

This would have revolutionary implications for understanding the causes of depression, and indeed the treatment of mood disorders.

How often have we intuitively felt that, if someone just tried to look happier, it might have a positive impact on their mood? 

Now a team of researchers lead by Axel Wollmera and Tillmann Krugerb, based at the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel, Switzerland and the Department of Psychiatry, Medical School Hannover, Germany, have indeed turned conventional thinking on its head. Their research, just published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, has found that injecting botox into the muscles most linked with low mood, produces alleviation of depression.

Injection of botulinum toxin to the glabellar region - just above the nose and between the eyes, is part of one of the most common procedures in aesthetic medicine, as the toxin inhibits the activity of the corrugator and procerus muscles in that region. This effect is used in the cosmetic treatment of 'frown lines'.

The subjects recruited for this clinical trial were suffering from long-standing low mood - on average 16 years of recurrent episodes of depression with the current episode lasting an average of almost 30 months, and they were selected as a group unconcerned with their facial appearance (they would not have picked 'botox' if given a choice).

The study, 'Facing depression with botulinum toxin: A randomised controlled trial, involved patients who had not previously benefited from standard anti-depressant prescription medication.

In Wollmera, Krugerb and colleagues' clinical trial botulinum toxin was injected just once into a specific part of the face in 15 patients, while another 15 were injected with placebo salt water. Remarkable improvements in mood were achieved after just one injection. Six weeks after a single treatment, scores on a standard depression rating scale, for botulinum toxin recipients, were reduced on average by 47.1%, while the placebo treated group experienced only a 9.2% reduction in the measurement of their depression.

This clinical trial involved the very specific choice of two particular small muscles in the face, especially associated with negative expressions, while 'botox' cosmetic treatments may target other muscles as well.

The corrugator supercilii is a narrow muscle at the corner of the eyebrow near the nose, and is responsible for pulling the eyebrows downward and towards the nose, producing vertical wrinkles of the forehead. This 'frowning' muscle and could be regarded as key in expressing distress. 

The other muscle activated when we're upset is the procerus, which extends from the lower part of the nasal bone to the middle area in the forehead between the eyebrows. It pulls the skin between the eyebrows down, so it's associated with transverse forehead lines and is usually targeted during treatment or correction of wrinkles. 

Since the Victorian era 'the omega sign' of depression, or omega melancholicum was well known, being the facial expression where wrinkling of the skin above the nose and between the eyebrows resembles the Greek letter omega. The 'Omega Sign' was even believed to be diagnostic of a depressive disorder.

A skin fold running obliquely from the lower outside to the upper inside on the upper eyelid is specifically named Veraguth's folds and was also assumed historically to be characteristic of depression.

Now it looks like modern medicine is rediscovering an ancient story that depression writes in the face, and, vice versa, how the face might prop up depression.

William James, a famous Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, said in 1890, "Refuse to express a passion, and it dies", referring to a 'facial feedback' hypothesis. Wollmera, Krugerb and colleagues argue this suggests strong historical support for a mutual interaction between emotions and facial muscle activity, rather than just one way traffic. 

The theory here is that expressing an emotion causes you to feel that mood, not just the other way round.

To test this revolutionary idea a number of scientific studies recently aimed to alter facial expression and then investigate whether emotional experience is subsequently affected. These studies, if they are properly scientific, have to carefully manipulate facial displays of emotion in a manner that eliminates the participants' awareness that they are being asked to produce an emotional expression. 

For example, one experiment involved having subjects hold a pen between their teeth (a simulation of smiling but without the subjects realising this was the point of the experiment). They found cartoons funnier. In another experiment two golf tees were attached to either side of subjects' foreheads and the participants were asked to move the two tees together (a simulation of frowning without the subjects realising they were being asked to glower). When the tees were closer together, subjects rated unpleasant photographs more negatively.

One possible implication of all these startling findings is that you may not need 'botox' to get the same anti-depressant benefits: relaxation techniques applied specifically to your facial muscles might have the same effect.

The ''motion creates emotion'' theory is also reflected in the rise of 'laughter therapy'. A recent review by Ramon Mora-Ripoll, of the Laughter Research Network in Barcelona, Spain, surveys nine scientific studies which had found significant health benefits from laughing. For example in one study of eight laughter therapy weekly sessions, a 55% reduction in pain scores; a 12% increase in functional mobility; and a 50% reduction in depression symptoms and 42% in anxiety symptoms were produced by laughter in 107 chronic pain patients, who maintained these gains at 12 month follow-up.

Mora-Ripoll's review, entitled 'Potential health benefits of simulated laughter: A narrative review of the literature and recommendations for future research' published in the Academic Journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine suggests these health benefits are often being produced by 'simulated laughter' willed upon oneself, and not triggered by humour - or fun as in 'spontaneous laughter'.

Exactly why forcing yourself to laugh, just like forcibly removing frowning or a worried expression, should produce health benefits remains mysterious, but Mora-Ripoll points out that laughter itself exercises and relaxes muscles, improves respiration, stimulates circulation, decreases stress hormones, increases immune system defenses, and elevates pain threshold.

Perhaps it improves mental functioning through the release of inhibitions and promotion of sociability, and maybe frowning less and smiling more as in the botox therapy, works in similar ways.

It's possible that the botox treatment for depression was effective because a more positive facial expression improved social interaction, and this may have contributed to improved mood. Maybe looking in the mirror, and seeing they looked more cheerful, could have lead the subjects in this clinical trial to believe they were happier. This in turn, elevated mood.

However, the Wollmera, Krugerb and colleagues argue, there are many reasons a purely aesthetic benefit can be excluded as the main cause of mood improvement in the botox treatment of depression. Patients in this clinical trial were not concerned about the cosmetic appearance of their frown lines. The improvement in mood did not turn on feeling better about a cosmetic improvement in appearance. For example, one participant's depression remitted with the botox treatment, but that person disliked the facial appearance it produced.

The authors conclude that their clinical trial shows facial expressions associated with depression are not just the consequences of low mood. In fact, they may be integral components of the disorder, and therefore should also be targeted.

Clinical depression is a serious and complex disorder where it's unlikely any one treatment is going to be a magic panacea. Because standard medical treatments work only in a proportion of patients, exploring other possible approaches is warranted. One in 10 of the general population suffer from clinical anxiety and depression at any one time.

So it's good news that learning to smile and laugh more, but frown less, may just be the latest scientifically validated treatment for depression.

 

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: raj_persaud_chats_to_jeremy_holmes.mp3
Category:(2) General Podcasts -- posted at: 6:42am UTC

Unparalleled Trauma. One of the most traumatic events of all?

A young woman who suffered one of the most traumatic experiences of all for anybody talks to Dr Raj Persaud.

 

Raj Persaud in conversation with Victoria, who suffered bipolar illness, sexual assault, self-harm and suicide attempts.

Victoria (not her real name) was a victim of a serious sexual assault who developed mental health problems, yet has made a good recovery. She has been successfully treated for bipolar illness, but her problems may be linked to a difficult childhood and strained relationship with her father.​

 

 

Do Offenders, as in the Rolf Harris Case, Sentence Their Own Families, and Their Victims, for Life?

 

RAJ PERSAUD AND PETER BRUGGEN

Recent high-profile cases of sex crime convictions, as in Rolf Harris and Max Clifford, reveal outwardly puzzling and strange reactions from their own families. Some relatives show solidarity, appearing each day in court, loyally at the side of the accused. 

What goes on inside a household when someone at their centre is guilty of child, and other, sex crimes, could explain how these particular criminals lead such an incredible double-life. This might account for these astoundingly long criminal careers, in what is widely regarded as one of the worse crimes of all, because children are the most innocent of victims.

Laurence Miller, a Florida psychologist, has published an investigation in 2013 into the different types of paedophile; 'Sexual Offenses against children: Patterns and Motives'. His categorisation could suggest families or relatives are sometimes even colluding in some way, or possibly are victims themselves. At the very least, they can appear in severe denial over the perpetrator in their midst.

He points out, in his study published in the academic journal, 'Aggression and Violent Behaviour', that the 'situational' child molester abuses children as targets of opportunity, particularly if other sexual prospects are unavailable. They therefore tend to also target the elderly, disabled and any other kind of available victim, provided by circumstance.

This is in contrast to the 'preferential' child molester, who in the seductive sub-type, grooms young victims with gifts and attention. He rationalises a 'special relationship'. The 'fixated' sub-type, within the 'preferential' category, is a bit of a child himself - emotionally immature and socially inept.

The most violent and dangerous type is the 'sadistic' paedophile, who enjoys inflicting pain, fear and horror. To heighten the torment, they may even tell the child victim that their parents hate them, and ordered this retribution.

Laurence Miller contends that many child molesters seem to deploy primitive child-like 'defence mechanisms' such as dissociation - 'I didn't know what I was doing' - or denial - 'they're not really hurt, they seemed fine at the time'. Another classic psychological inner defence is 'projective identification', in which one's own unacceptable feelings are projected onto the victim; so it's the child who was viewed as acting seductively.

It's possible that some families also deploy such defence mechanisms in order to reconcile themselves to the paedophile in their midst. Some paedophiles either manipulatively encourage this process, or it spreads naturally through a close-knit group, as people under stress often need such defences in order to cope.

These powerful psychological mechanisms may explain why some paedophiles don't get caught for so long.

Laurence Miller comments that few family members will actively collude with blatant criminal sexual behavior on the part of their husband, brother, father, or son who may now be facing prosecution. However families will rationalize the perpetrator's behavior partly because they have a lot to lose if the perpetrator is convicted (home, finances, family reputation, etc.).

Sometimes, Laurence Miller observes, an interesting "flip" occurs when families, who have been rallying on the side of their loved one for some time, are now faced with mounting evidence against him, and abruptly switch to loathing and rejection, partly against the perpetrator, but also partly out of self-denigration for "letting myself be fooled for all these years."

Nevertheless, Laurence Miller points out, many family members continue to support long after the nature and scope of the offenses has been made clear. Parents are more likely to remain supportive than spouses or children.

Laurence Miller quotes an example of a news story in 2009 of New York's then oldest registered sex offender, who had his 100th birthday in a correctional facility, while serving a ten year sentence for sexually assaulting two sisters aged 4 and 7. This perpetrator appeared to have used his grandfatherly charm to entrap young victims for over 60 years.

Garry Walter and Saby Pridmore, psychiatrists from the University of Sydney and University of Tasmania, have published in 2012 a study of suicides across the world in publicly exposed paedophiles, entitled 'Suicide and the Publicly Exposed Pedophile'. 

Their examples, published in 'The Malaysian Journal of Medical Science', include former Liberal MP and Secretary of State to the Colonies, a 1st Viscount, who killed himself aged 59 in 1922, following publicity over the raping of a 12 year-old boy. But he had been a sexual predator for years previously.

Another example they report is of a famous US paediatrician who shot himself in 2011 aged 71, one day after a class action sexual abuse and malpractice law suit was filed against him, charging that he had performed unnecessary genital examinations on 40 boys. He was also a number one New York Times Bestselling Book author. 

Other illustrations they quote include a 56 year old man who had been Texas District Attorney for more than 20 years, who shot himself as a SWAT team entered his home following an investigation by an anti-paedophile group, which had arranged for actors to pretend to be under-aged children making contact with him.

Twenty incidents of suicide in publicly exposed paedophiles were identified from eight countries, with the average age of offenders being Fifty-Three years. These also include a United States Prosecutor, as well as a UK author and academic emigrant to Canada with a PhD in neuroscience.

Of course we never really know why a person who commits suicide does it. But these cases illustrate how really serious family wrecking criminals, often have built socially very respectable careers, just as the 'successful' Rolf Harris.

In four of these cases, Garry Walter and Saby Pridmore explain, the evidence suggests they had been perpetrating sex abuse on children in the order of 30 years, and in another four cases for at least 15 years; some were married with families.

Donald Campbell, a psychoanalyst based in London, recently published a paper entitled 'Doubt in the psychoanalysis of a paedophile', where he argues that issues of disbelief, particularly the ability of such perpetrators to create doubt in the minds of those around them, might be a fundamental modus operandi.

Donald Campbell, Past President of the British Psychoanalytical Society, refers to a kind of 'sadistic' doubt, in his paper published in the June 2014 issue of 'The International Journal of Psychoanalysis', where the sex abuser appears to derive sexual gratification from the sewing of seeds of incredulity all around him.

Perhaps uniquely more than in any other crime, at the heart of sex offences, is doubt. This renders the crime particularly psychologically damaging. Uncertainty is planted in the minds of the victim, and of those close to the victim, and the perpetrator, over exactly what happened.

It may be the ability to make people distrust even themselves, is a uniquely manipulative skill of abusers. Grasping this strategy could halt these immoral careers much earlier, as they seem to be some of the longest in criminal history.

A court conviction, followed by sentencing, normally ends the ambiguity for the public, over what happened, in a sex crime.

But for the families of perpetrators, as well as the victims, the hesitation and uncertainty over who someone like Rolf Harris really is, can be a life sentence.

 

 

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_0055_1.mp3
Category:(3) EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES of severe emotional turmoil -- posted at: 4:46am UTC

Sleep problems explained. The psychiatry of sleep problems

How to get a good nights sleep without pills?

Dr Raj Persaud in conversation with Dr Jeremy Beider. Problems sleeping are one of the commonest difficulties that doctors in the UK deal with - possibly leading to massive over-prescribing of hypnotic drugs which can be highly addictive. What are the non-pharmacological ways of achieving a good nights sleep? Raj Persaud in conversation with Jeremy Beider who was presenting on this topic at the Annual International Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists at the Barbican.

Jeremy Beider is a consultant in adult psychiatry in West London Mental Health Trust and holds a MSc in Behavioural Sleep Medicine from Glasgow University.

He has Clinical experience at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Sleep Disorders unit and the National Neuropsychopharmacology Clinic UK

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

As a Dream Predicts Lottery Win, and Malaysian Airlines Passenger Posts Eerily Prophetic Picture - Can Dream and Visions Foretell the Future?

 

RAJ PERSAUD AND PETER BRUGGEN

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/lottery-dream_b_5605068.html

 

The UK press has reported that a judge recently ordered a restaurant owner to split half of a million pound lottery prize with his waiter, because of a dream foretelling the future.

The boss of a Turkish restaurant in York, England, bought the winning lottery ticket following a vivid dream experienced by his superstitious employee, predicting the win.

Judge Mark Gosnell's ruling followed a protracted legal dispute between the two men as to whom the prize money belonged to. The Judge's final decision, that the jackpot had to be split by the boss with his waiter, partly turned on a premonition.

It is reported that the waiter dreamt that he was holding a large bundle of cash and standing in front of him was his boss. Being a strong believer in the power of such visions, the dreamer interpreted this to mean that he and his boss would scoop the lottery.

The following day the waiter apparently "pestered" his boss for hours, before the restaurant owner finally agreed to enter the EuroMllions draw.

The judge examined CCTV footage from the restaurant which showed the two men filling in the winning ticket, and ruled in the waiter's favour, accepting the dream explanation was "plausible".

While anecdotal reports of dreams predicting the future abound, Parapsychologists are interested in scientifically testing whether foretelling the future might be possible.

For example, a paper entitled, 'An ostensible precognition of the Arab surprise attack on the Day of Atonement, 1973', published in 1986 by Gilad Livneh, in the 'Journal of the Society for Psychical Research', presented just such a compelling case. A letter to Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, was discussed in which a woman reports her vision about an Arab attack, two weeks before the actual event took place.

While accurate prophecy was a plausible explanation, however, the author also conceded that chance coincidence could not be ruled out, due to the inconsistency of certain details between the dream, and the actual event itself.

Caroline Watt, Natalie Ashley, Jack Gillett, Megan Halewood and Rebecca Hanson from the Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, have just published one of the most recent systematic studies on prophetic dreams.

These authors report surveys showing that around one quarter of the population believes in the ability to foretell the future, while about one third report 'precognitive' experiences (precognitive means literally fore-knowing).

The authors also point out the scientific and public importance should some dreams indeed turn out to be reliably prophetic. For example, if such precognitive dreams contain trustworthy information, it might be possible to warn of forthcoming disasters, or even to prevent them from occurring.

This has particular resonance right now given a Dutch passenger feared dead, is recently reported to have posted a photo of the Malaysian Airlines Jet he was boarding, destined to crash in the Ukraine, with the message: "if we disappear, this is what the plane looks like".

Caroline Watt, Rebecca Hanson and colleagues point out that following the Aberfan disaster the British Premonitions Bureau was set up in London, and in the USA the Central Premonitions Registry was established. Both appear to have faltered partly due to an insufficient number of predictions that could be related to specific incidents.

Linking an incident which has now happened with a prior dream could merely be a tendency to see patterns facilitated by the benefit of hindsight.

In another past study reported by the authors of the latest research, participants were asked to document their dreams upon awakening, and then to mail a copy to the researcher. The dreamers were asked to notify the investigator if they noticed any events occurring that corresponded to their dreams. In one series, it was judged that only two out of 265 dreams (over an 8-week period) appeared 'moderately' prophetic.

Caroline Watt, Rebecca Hanson and colleagues' current paper, entitled 'Psychological factors in precognitive dream experiences: The role of paranormal belief, selective recall and propensity to find correspondences', investigated the part of selective recall in prophetic dream experiences. Participants read two diaries, one purporting to be a dream diary, and one claiming to be a diary of incidents in the dreamer's life. The events either confirmed or disconfirmed the reported visions.

A significantly greater number of confirmed than disconfirmed dream-event pairs were recalled by participants taking part in the experiment, possibly indicating a human tendency to see connections over unconnected happenings.

The authors argue that their research, published in the 'International Journal of Dream Research' in April 2014, explain the seeming coincidence between dreams and events that can be interpreted as prophetic.

Two possible psychological mechanisms - selective recall and propensity to find correspondences seem to lead us to experience many more dreams apparently foretelling the future, than may genuinely exist.

These explain the discrepancy between the dearth of scientific support for prophetic dreams, compared with the rather frequently reported experience in the general population, of having dreamed about a seemingly unpredictable future event.

Psychologists Gergo Hadlaczky and Joakim Westerlund from Stockholm University have published a study in 2011 which argues that how surprised you are by coincidences could predict how likely you are to end up believing in phenomena such as parapsychology and the supernatural.

The study entitled 'Sensitivity to coincidences and paranormal belief' and published in the journal, 'Perceptual and Motor Skills' exposed participants to artificial coincidences, who were asked to provide remarkability ratings. Those who were more surprised, when experiencing coincidences, tend towards higher paranormal belief (beliefs such as in telepathy etc).

The most obvious explanation for many coincidences is 'just chance'. Tending to be more surprised by coincidence suggests a tendency to reject the 'it's just chance' account. For example, there will be some who put it down to just chance that two Malaysian Airlines Jets should suffer catastrophe in a short space of time. Others will be much more surprised.

It's possible that a tendency to be more shocked by coincidence simply betrays poor probability reasoning. But it could also have positive survival value in an evolutionary sense. Being more paranoid may mean seeing patterns in what others assume are random events.

Being more astonished by coincidence, could have made you more vigilant for threat in our ancestral environment, more paranoid, and therefore more able to detect and defend against predators in our ancestral past. We could be genetically wired up to be surprised by coincidence.

But paranoia and surprise by chance is only helpful if it leads to an actual action that then produces a positive outcome. The passenger reported to have posted the prophetic internet message about the Malaysian Airlines Jet due to be flying over Ukraine, apparently still did board the plane.

The recent lottery-winner case appears an excellent example of a kind of quasi-scientific proof that dreams can foretell the future, because the person who had the dream then engaged in an action the next day as a direct result - persuading his boss to buy a lottery ticket.

Yet if the waiter in the most recent legal judgement ruling was so convinced by his prophetic dream - why did he not take more precautions to safeguard his claim to the win?

Why did he not foresee that sharing the ticket purchase with his boss was going to lead to a protracted legal battle?

Depending on how you interpret it, this could become an example of how dreams or visions don't really predict the future.

 

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