Raj Persaud in conversation - the podcasts
Cowardice - Chris Walsh bravely discusses his new book with Raj Persaud

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




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


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


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


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


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



A related article which may be of interest

Inside the Mind of the Twitter Troll




Raj Persaud


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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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




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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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




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

Women's Sexual Fantasies - the Latest Scientific Research



Dr Raj Persaud and Dr Jenny Bivona


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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

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


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

The Psychology of Optimism

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

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


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


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


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





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




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


Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham






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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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



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







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

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


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

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

Freud on the Brain. Latest neuroscience research supports Freud?

Can neuroscience prove the existence of the Unconsious?


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

This podcast is based on a paper recently published entitled:

Neural correlates of recall of life events in conversion disorder.

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

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

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


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


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



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


Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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



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



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



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



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




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


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








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

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


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


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


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


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


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


A related article which may be of interest




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


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




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




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




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




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




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






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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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






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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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






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




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




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




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




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




That should be the headline story.





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



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


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



Does Meditation Work? The Scientific Evidence.

Latest research on whether meditation works with surprising findings


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

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

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

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

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





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


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


Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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




How To Spot Talent

Is talent not as easy to find and keep as we think?


Raj Persaud in conversation with Professor Adrian Furnham about his new book on how to spot talent 

Organisations (including the NHS and Football Teams) are notoriously bad at spotting, nurturing, developing and retaining talent or talented people. Professor Adrian Furnham - a distinguished professor of psychology at University College London has just published an important new book on talent - co-authored with Ian MaCrae. The book is entitled High Potential - How to Spot, Manage and Develop Talented People at work and is published by Bloomsbury Press.


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


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




Could the Secret of Success Lie In Being a Little Bit Less Clever?

Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham 



If you had a choice, would you rather be a good brain surgeon, or a good parent? Would you rather be a good corporate executive, or a good friend? Evolutionary Psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa poses these questions in his new book The Intelligence Paradox, arguing too much store is placed on intelligence and academic success.



Evolutionary Psychology is a branch of science which contends that any feature of a person, such as their physique or indeed their personality, such as intelligence, must have evolved and spread across Homo Sapiens, because it produced 'survival of the fittest' benefits.


But why then does such huge variability in IQ in the population persist? Why the famous Bell Curve? A question many a weary job interviewer must have asked themselves following along day of stupid answers to simple questions. 


Dr Kanazawa, a lecturer at the London School of Economics, notes that those not blessed with a high IQ still seem to learn a lot without ever needing to be formally taught. It's just that they're good at learning things our formal education system never bothers to teach, grade or value.


Gang members who are expelled from school without any qualifications, seem to intuitively know how to make and keep friends, without ever having to be instructed. Indeed they may be better at forming strategic affiliations than those techies and nerds who remain top of the class, destined to be made partners.


Is it possible that the ability to make friends held just as much survival significance, if not more, than a high IQ in our evolutionary past? Do we forget this at our peril? Evolution is about strategies which endure successfully across millions of years, not just one or two business cycles.


We evolved to make affiliations because for an extended part of our evolutionary history, it was what enabled survival. Having strong and supportive friendships predicted continued existence despite predators and warring tribes in our distant past, rather than a facility with algebra. Everybody then can make friends, everyone that is, contends Kanazawa, except for the academically successful, who end up at the top of hierarchies and running our societies, because IQ is overrated as the solution to life's problems.


Kanazawa uses a famous psychological study of the most academically gifted to back up his argument.The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth tracks the lives of more than 5,000 individuals in the USA who have been identified as truly gifted, with an IQ score higher than 155 - when the national average is 100 and the average graduate scores 120.


More than half of this elite group (51.7% of men and 54.3%of women) have earned a doctorate (Ph.D., M.D.), compared to the population baseline in the USA of 1%. More than a third of the men and about a fifth of the women earn more than $100,000 a year in 2003-2004 in their early 30s. Additionally, 17.8% of the men and 4.3% of the women have earned patents, compared to the population baseline in the US of 1%.


In stark contrast to theirstellar successes in education and employment, this elite do not do very wellin domains of marriage and parenting, according to Kanazawa, indeed on various measures they even fall below average. Kanazawa can find no evidence of superior functioning in friendship, parenting or family life for those with high IQs across swathes of psychological research.


Another branch of behavioural science - Swarm Intelligence - is now also asking some new troubling questions about the disadvantages of ultra elite IQ. The term 'Swarm Intelligence' arose out of the observation that while an individual bee may not seem that clever, the whole hive possesses an aptitude way beyond the sum of each individual bee's IQ. But corporations may be making a fatal error if they think the Swarm Intelligence of their organisation is simply a summation ofthe individual brainpower of each member. Because of a poor hiring strategy, it could often be a lot lower.


So the latest research on Swarm Intelligence - the study of the IQ or ability of groups, as opposed to the capabilities of individuals, suggests intriguing disadvantages groups of the dazzlingly talented suffer from, as opposed to more diverse ability ranges, which might help avoid financial bubbles and crashes in the future.


After all one deep puzzle of the last fiscal collapse was why so many brilliant 'experts' failed to anticipate the problem, and therefore botched acting early enough to prevent it. It's a deeper paradox for this last crash than all previous ones, given the very brightest and best coming out of the education system are lured into finance these days, more so than ever before.


The answer could lie in thelatest finding from Swarm Intelligence research, which finds in some situations diversity trumps ability.



A group of researchers led by Stefan and Jens Krause from Germany, collaborating with academics at the Universities of Bath, Glasgow, Leeds have recently conducted a series of intriguing experiments in some of which, groups of 'experts' performed worse in judgement tasks, than the average population.


In one study carried out by the team led by the Krauses, at the University of Leeds during an Open Day, visitors were asked to estimate the number of beans in 10 differently shaped jars. Each jar contained a randomly generated number of beans between 80 and 1000. Using statistical techniques to analyse the results of this and other similar experiments, groups consisting of'experts', or groups where more weight was attached to an expert opinion, tended to do worse than collectives which were more diverse.



Diversity trumped ability. This strange result is explained possibly by the tendency of experts in this scenario (and others in the real world) to be biased in a certain trend - they tend to make errors in one direction, so pushing their averaged answer to be more wrong than when a group of non-experts' results were averaged. The diverse group tended to make more random errors, or mistakes in all directions, thus cancelling each other out.


This latest Swarm Intelligence study, published in the journal Animal Behaviour (not widely read in Economics common rooms) and entitled 'Swarm intelligence in humans: diversity can trump ability' also explored whether there were particular kinds of problems where more diverse Swarm Intelligence doesn't defeat groupsof experts. Perhaps dilemmas where background technical expertise is essential.


German subjects were asked to estimate how many times a coin needs to be tossed for the probability that the coin will constantly show heads each time, to achieve roughly as small a probability as that of winning the German lottery (have a guess - the correct answer is at the end of the article). The results do indeed show that expert collectives are better than diverse groups at this kind of question - technical knowledge is needed as opposed to judgement, but the problem in other scenarios where diversity beats ability could be that experts tend to overestimate how much of any conundrum is 'technical' as opposed to 'judgement'. After all this bias justifies their demanding the big bucks in exchange for expertise.


But we all exist and survive in groups, from companies to families, and these latest findings point to the most robust teams featuring a mix of talents, rather than a narrow range. Our education system and those who hire, appear focused too much on individual elite talent, rather than what is much more important, how your contribution boosts the team's performance. The essence of good management is after all to select, form, motivate and get the best out of a team with different talents.


So elite financial institutions in seeking out only the most talented should beware they are adopting astrategy which mother nature itself has rejected over hundreds of thousands of years of our species evolution. But the human race is now running the largest natural experiment in history - with millions and their livelihoods at stake - which tests whether diversity trumps ability; and that experiment is called - China.


If you are sceptical of these latest research findings from Swarm Intelligence, then you'll be backing the narrow elite that runs China to beat the more diverse democratic decision-making of the West and India. If diversity trumps ability, China's system must inevitably fail a 'survival of the fittest' test against democratic and freer competitors. Your investment strategy in relation to China might reveal what your really think in this debate, but, remember, according to this Swarm Intelligence research, evolution has already made up her mind.


The next time you wander out of the narrow confines of the city, look around you, what you see is diversity.

(RE: Coin toss problem - the correct answer is 24)



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


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




Can A Single Session Cure? Can a single session of therapy produce a cure? Professor Windy Dryden talks to Raj Persaud

The assumption that therapy should always be long term has been challenged repeatedly over the last twenty five years.

The difficulty is that Single Session Therapy has become associated in many therapists minds with being “money driven”, “superficial” and “poor quality”.

Professor Dryden builds on the work of a number of researchers and practitioners – from Moshe Talmon’s work on Single Session Therapy via Ost’s One Session CBT Treatment for Phobias and more recently, Andrea Reinecke's single session exposure based treatment of panic attacks at Oxford University.

Professor Dryden advocates an integrated approach combining belief and inference challenge with mindfulness and acceptance strategies.

Windy Dryden

Professor of Psychotherapeutic Studies

Windy Dryden, Emeritus Professor of Psychotherapeutic Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London was one of the first people in the UK to be trained in CBT, and was the first Professor of Counselling in the UK.

The author or editor of 200 books and over 700 scholarly articles on CBT and Counselling – from “The Handbook of Brief Cognitive Behaviour Therapy” through to “Ten Steps To Positive Living”

He offers a uniquely informed perspective on CBT and psychotherapy as its practiced today and where it is heading in the future.




Psychologists Find the Best Way to Achieve New Year's Resolutions - Is to Not Make Any by Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen



New Year's resolutions commonly involve resolving to end bad habits - for example giving up alcohol or smoking.

However the latest psychological research suggests that, paradoxically, trying hard to not do something, might render it more likely you will perform negative habits.

This effect is referred to as ironic mental control. The 'ironic' part refers to the fact that trying not to do things, in particular trying not to think of something, or endeavouring not to have desires, seems to, paradoxically, bring them on more strongly.

If the theory is correct it explains why every year we make New Year's resolutions only to break them quite soon.

The theory of ironic mental control, it is suggested by some, might have been inspired by writer Fyodor Dostoevsky observing in his 'Winter Notes on Summer Impressions', (an 1863 account of his travels in Western Europe): "Try not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute."

Harvard psychologist, Daniel Wegner and colleagues in a famous experiment published in the 'Journal of Personality and Social Psychology', then found thoughts of a white bear were more likely to recur for those who initially suppressed thoughts of a white bear, than for participants who had not been asked to suppress such thoughts.

The study entitled, 'Paradoxical effects of thought suppression', found people were amazingly unsuccessful at prohibiting thoughts of a white bear, with at least one 'white bear thought' occurring each minute, despite explicit instructions not to think about a white bear. When told to try to think about a white bear in a subsequent period, these same participants reported even more thoughts of a white bear than participants who hadn't suppressed initially.

In other words, there is even a re-bound effect - which is when liberated to finally allow yourself to think of something you have been suppressing - you tend to go overboard and do even more of it than you would otherwise. So the problems with trying hard not to do something include even if you succeed temporarily, you are vulnerable to periods of lack of restraint, succumbing to splurge or binge even more than before.

One of the very latest studies entitled, 'Why the white bear is still there: Electrophysiological evidence for ironic semantic activation during thought suppression', measured brain electrical activity changes using scalp recordings, when suppressing different words.

The study, recently published in the journal 'Brain Research', has established that trying to suppress thoughts doesn't just produce the opposite effect, this occurs at a fundamental brain activity level.

The authors of the investigation Ryan Giuliano and Nicole Wicha from the University of Oregon and the University of Texas at San Antonio, conclude that thought suppression may be a causal factor in a vast array of psychological problems. It could be a human instinct to actively seek to avoid distressing thoughts, but unfortunately this strategy appears to backfire, resulting in the resurgence of the very thoughts one is attempting to avoid.

Given weight control is such a large part of many people's resolutions, a study entitled 'The ironic effects of weight stigma' by Brenda Major, Jeffrey Hunger, Debra Bunyan and Carol Miller from the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Vermont, USA, might explain the frequent failure of New Year's Resolutions over weight. Women were randomly assigned to read a news article about stigma faced by overweight individuals in the job market or to read a control article.

The study published in the 'Journal of Experimental Social Psychology' found weight-stigmatizing news articles caused self-perceived overweight women, to consume more calories and feel less capable of controlling their eating than exposure to non-stigmatizing articles.

The answer to the paradox of New Year's Resolutions might come from a recent study inspired by the common experience that internal dialogue in golfers to avoid hitting the ball into the pond often ends with a splash.

The study entitled 'Unwanted effects in aiming actions: The relationship between gaze behavior and performance in a golf putting task', asked participants to perform a golf putting task with instructions to land the ball on the hole (neutral instructions), avoid putting too short, and avoid putting too long.

The authors, Olaf Binsch, Raoul Oudejans, Frank Bakker and Geert Savelsbergh from VU University, Amsterdam, and Manchester Metropolitan University, found that when participants gazed for longer at a specific area, the ball was more likely to land there.

The investigation, published in the journal 'Psychology of Sport and Exercise' concludes that the negative instruction, for instance, not to putt past a hole, influences mental processes during the putt. Thinking about a behaviour increases the likelihood of engaging in that response, even when the person is trying to avoid it.

Daniel Wegner and Daniel Gold showed this effect applied even to thoughts of past lovers, where they investigated the futility of the desire to put departed relationships out of mind. It seems that the harder one tries to suppress the thoughts of an 'old flame', the more one is disturbed by them.

The study entitled, 'Fanning Old Flames: Emotional and Cognitive Effects of Suppressing Thoughts of a Past Relationship', found that the suppression of thoughts of an old flame promotes the persistent psychological presence of the ex in our minds.

The authors argue, in their study published in the 'Journal of Personality and Social Psychology', that one possible explanation is that thoughts which return to mind following suppression tend to be particularly intrusive. Thoughts that pop into mind in this way seem to create greater emotional disturbance than thoughts that follow from an intentional train of thought.

Daniel Wegner, one of the pioneers in the field of ironic mental control is quoted as arguing that the secret of making successful New Year's Resolutions is to keep them affirmative and positive. Don't resolve to give up smoking - resolve instead to become more fit.

Taking up running is likely to help you give up smoking as pursuing one goal becomes incompatible with the other. Pick goals that are irreconcilable with bad habits. Positive resolutions (do's) might be easier to control than negative ones (don'ts). Don'ts require constant effort and battling with distractions.

So rather than resolving not to do something this New Year, instead determine to be more positive and do something.

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






What is a disorder of Attention? What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Raj Persaud in conversation with Heidi Feldman Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University

Professor Heidi Feldman discusses her recent paper in the New England Journal of Medicine on ADHD

Attention Deficit--Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents Heidi M. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., and Michael I. Reiff, M.D. N Engl J Med 2014; 370:838-846February 27, 2014

ADHD is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or a combination of these symptoms, which compromise functioning. Management includes medications (shown to improve core symptoms but not necessarily functional outcomes) and behavioral therapies.

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

Personal bio 

Heidi M. Feldman MD PhD holds the Ballinger-Swindells Endowed Professorship in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine and serves as the Medical Director of the Mary L Johnson Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics Clinical Programs at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. She earned a PhD at the University of Pennsylvania in Developmental Psychology and an MD at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. She is currently combining neural imaging techniques and behavioral measures to understand the outcomes of children and adolescents born preterm. She has taught Developmental Disabilities: From Biology to Policy in Human Biology at Stanford University. Dr. Feldman is also a dedicated yoga enthusiast and yoga teacher. 


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




Is our children's mental health worse than ours? If so - why?


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


Under a headline: 'Children as young as five suffering from depression', The Daily Telegraph Newspaper recently declared that the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)  reported 80,000 children in the UK with severe depression, including 8,000 below the age of 10. Children as young as five can suffer from the psychiatric disorder; NICE affirms more identification of these children is needed.


A few days later The Daily Telegraph's new headline was: ''Toxic childhoods’ blamed for 22,000 self-harm cases' - beneath the headline was a byline: 'More than 22,000 children and teenagers were treated in hospital for self-harming in 2012, according to official figures which experts said showed the “toxic” effects of social media and a society obsessed with body image'.


Might it be more relevant that the UK currently has one of the highest divorce rates in Europe? At least one in three children here experience parental separation before the age of 16 years. Between a third and a half of all children in the UK have a non-resident parent, usually the father, during some part of their childhood?


A study entitled 'Trends in adolescent emotional problems in England: a comparison of two national cohorts twenty years apart', compared large samples of youth 20 years apartusing identical symptom screening in each survey. Twice as many young people reported frequent feelings of depression or anxiety in 2006 as in 1986.


Stephan Collishaw, Barbara Maughan, Lucy Natarajan, and Andrew Pickles from Cardiff University and the Institute of Psychiatry, London concluded was there has has indeed been a real and substantial increase in adolescent emotional problems in England over recent decades, especially among girls. The proportion of girls with five or more psychological symptoms doubled.


Published in the 'Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry', the study found that whether or not they were raised in an intact or socially advantaged family was associated with girls' mental health, but not boys'. 


Iryna Culpin from the School of Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol led a team which conducted a major study entitled, 'Father absence and depressive symptoms in adolescence: Findings from a UK cohort', whose results are just about to be published.


This team of researchers, including J. Heron, R. Araya, R. Melotti and C. Joinson, followed up 5631 UK children, and found an association between father absence during the first 5 years of life and increased depressive symptoms at 14 years. But father absence experienced during middle childhood (5–10 years) was not associated with increased depressive symptoms at 14 years.


The study - to be published in the medical journal 'Psychological Medicine', found that the association between father absence during the first 5 years of life and depressive symptoms at 14 years was stronger in girls than boys.


But exactly why girls are more sensitive to father absence during early childhood remains a mystery. The authors of the current study point to previous work which found father absence during the first 5 years is associated in daughters with earlier timing of first period, increased rate of sexual activity and teenage pregnancy, which are, in turn, associated with increased levels of depressive symptoms in girls.


Dr Benjamin Baig, Clinical Lecturer, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, London, points out that the age of first period has become younger by one year over the last 80 years. He suggests that modern childhood appears to mean becoming biologically older at a younger age, and displaying adult type psychiatric symptoms, chronologically earlier.


Karen Schepman, Stephan Collishaw, Frances Gardner, Barbara Maughan, Jacqueline Scott and Andrew Pickles in another study, posed the specific question, 'Do changes in parent mental health explain trends in youth emotional problems?'” English adolescents in 2006 were considerably more likely to be exposed to maternal emotional problems than their counterparts in 1986. The study published in 'Social Science and Medicine' found maternal emotional problems increased across all socio-demographic groups between 1986 and 2006, mirroring increases in adolescent emotional problems over this period. 


So if it's not so much bad parenting - but poor maternal mental health - which could be a major culprit, should another favourite media whipping boy - new technology - also still be in the frame for rising childhood mental health problems?   


A study just published entitled 'Older Versus Newer Media and the Well-being of United States Youth: Results From a National Longitudinal Panel', followed 719 nationally representative young people, ages 14-24 years in the USA, and found use of older media was more related to school grades. Television was negatively, and book readingpositively related to academic performance. 


The authors of the study, Daniel Romer, Zhanna Bagdasarov, and Eian More from the University of Pennsylvania, conclude that despite concerns that excessive use of new media is harmful to adolescent development, it's actuallytelevision which most detracts from academic performance and book reading which most supports it. 


Heavy use of the Internet and video gaming may in fact be more a symptom of mental health problems than a cause. The authors of the study, published in the 'Journal of Adolescent Health' point out that withdrawal from social activity, which is a symptom of depression, leads many young people to turn to media use as a replacement for hanging out with friends.


Depression in adolescents is linked with clinical low mood in adults, strengthening the case for early intervention if possible  


Yet Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists at the country's largest mental health trusts point out they face 30% cuts over the next two years.


Jane Costello, Professor of Psychiatry at Duke University in the USA, comments on the predicament: 'The bottom line is that services are so scarce that it hardly matters how many kids need them—the gap between need and availability is so huge.'


Cycles of unhappiness repeat themselves. Parental depression is associated with child and adolescent emotional problems, via a variety of pathways, and certainly not just genetic.


Given that parental mental health problems are amongst the strongest predictors of child and adolescent emotional disordersthis raises the prospect of a ‘vicious cycle’ of inter-generational transmission of anxiety and depression.


More support for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, is an investment not just for the present, but for the future.


49th Maudsley Debate: ‘Sick Children or Sick Society?’


“What should we make of the seemingly inexorable rise in psychiatric diagnoses in children?” Tuesday 15th October 2013, 6pm to 8pm (refreshments served from 5.30pm) Wolfson Lecture Theatre, Institute of Psychiatry Main Building, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF. All Welcome.



Improve your body language. Can better body language improve your career?

Body Language in Business

Decoding the Signals

Raj Persaud in conversation with Prof Adrian Furnham

Body Language in Business

Decoding the Signals

Adrian FurnhamEvgeniya Petrova


This book is about body language: signals we send and receive, messages we transmit and decipher, and 'statements' we make about ourselves nonverbally. Body language is the most primitive system of communication that we share with other species in the animal kingdom. We also use it in the board room and the salesroom to great or little effect. It is the language that we all speak regardless of background or upbringing. It is in our 'DNA': it is a part of our human nature, the very stuff of communication. 


In this book we seek to clarify a few issues. Firstly, we pose and answer the question what does it entail to communicate via body language. Secondly, we deal with the issues of how body language can be used and, regrettably, sometimes abused, to communicate. There is much confusion (and dare we say nonsense) about how to interpret nonverbal signals. Finally, we choose to concentrate on practical applications of these facts and observations to the world of work and business. Body language is important at work from the selection interview to the farewell speech. Nonverbal communication is also the essence of political propaganda, PR, marketing and advertising, and understanding of how these silent signals work can be a crucial asset to business as well as to consumers' education. 


This book will give you practical tips and advice about how to become better and more successful in business by reading and displaying the right body language.


A related article which may be of interest - does body language explain why women are found more attractive in high heels?


First published in The Huffington Post 




Why do high heels make women more attractive?

Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham.


High heels are fashionable, but uncomfortable, and can even lead to chronic foot damage. It doesn't make sense to favour footwear which harm and hurt feet, plus render it difficult to run from ancient and modern predators.



But if wearing high heels makes women more attractive, allowing them to be more choosy over a larger number of higher quality males competing for their attention, this could explain the evolutionary advantages of this fashion statement.



What's chic, what's in and what's out, should be predicted by evolutionary theory. Otherwise it will be judged by history as just a passing phase. Eventually as outmoded as shoulder pads from the 1980's.



Psychologists Paul Morris, Jenny White, Edward Morrison and Kayleigh Fisher from the University of Portsmouth, in the UK, have recently proposed a novel evolutionary theory about why women favour high heels.



As women normally walk differently from men, high heels may help exaggerate the particularly feminine aspects of gait. What these shoes do is make women walk even more like women.



Male gait involves greater velocity, longer stride length and slower rate. There are also differences in side swing. Men present more movement of the head and greater upper body side sway, whereas women display increased hip movement.



Gait is studied using point-light displays representing the body as a series of markers placed on key landmarks on limbs. In these experiments, the perceiver is presented with a pattern of dots on a screen. Because all they are seeing are dots moving, any impact on preferences or attractiveness has to be something to do with movement patterns, and not static physical appearance.



Perceivers are remarkably good at making sense of the patterns of movement of point-light display dots, and are able to distinguish between male and female gait. Just looking at moving dots representing movement of the whole body, it's possible reliably to allocate the walker as male or female.



In their recent study, entitled 'High heels as supernormal stimuli: How wearing high heels affects judgements of female attractiveness' the psychologists compared ratings of women walking in flat shoes, with the same women walking inhigh heels, in order to establish whether or not walking in high heels enhances the attractiveness of gait.



Thirty second video clips of the point-light displays of walkers in high heels and flat shoes were presented on a standard computer monitor.



The study, published in the academic journal 'Evolution and Human Behavior' found that for all walkers attractiveness was much higher in heels compared with the flat shoes condition. Both males and females judged high heels to be more attractive than flat shoes. Males and females also agreed which were the attractive and unattractive walkers.



The authors of the study conclude that high heels are an important part of the contemporary female wardrobe - the minimum number of high heeled shoes owned by those taking part in the experiment was four, and the maximum 25.



The results indicate that the female walk is perceived as much more attractive when wearing high heels than not. One, conscious or unconscious, motivation for women to wear high heels might therefore be to increase their attractiveness.



The effect seems highly consistent for each individual walker (i.e. all walkers were judged to be more attractive in the heels condition). The biomechanical results are also consistent with the theory that wearing high heels makes women look more attractive by making them more feminine, as the effect of heels was to exaggerate some sex specific elements of female gait including: greater pelvic rotation, increased vertical motion at the hip, shorter strides and higher number of steps per minute.



The authors of this new study contend that high heels appear to act in a similar way to  what is referred to in evolutionary theory as a 'super releaser'. For example, some birds prefer large artificial eggs that they cannot even sit on, to their own normal size eggs. Female Baboons with a larger than normal swelling of the bottom associated with the sexually receptive period of their cycle, arouse greater sexual interest in males.



High heels similarly exaggerate the sex specific aspects of the female walk which could cause sexual arousal in males. The normal stimulus of a woman walking is exaggerated by the wearing of high heels, producing a supernormal stimulus.



But there have been numerous fashions that have not been congruent with an evolutionary model. For example, female shoulder pads in the 1980s emphasised a particularly male aspect of the body. Flapper dresses in the 1920s didn't emphasise the female figure, the authors of this study point out.



Fashions by their very nature are ephemeral, but trends that endure (such as high heels for females) emphasise sex specific aspects of the body. Other styles, such as shoulder pads, will reoccur infrequently over time, as they are poorly matched with our biology. So predicts Evolutionary Psychology.



But genes, biology and evolution are not the only accounts of our preferences.



Maybe as the 1980's saw Britain's first female Prime Minister and the rise of women to positions of power, female fashion 'aped' men by shouting status and power to blend into the boardroom. As women took charge, they had to become 'masculine' in dress and appearance. Broad shoulders = alpha male = power and status.



'Workwear' for women still mimics male apparel eg sombre trouser suits. But this should also be a transient fashion if more women achieve high status roles.




Then they won't need to 'ape' men any more.




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



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



Direct download: Body20Language20for20Business.mp3
Category:(2) General Podcasts -- posted at: 6:18pm UTC

Mental Illness in the Movies

Can Hollywood help us understand psychological problems, or do films just stigmatise mental illness?



Professor Danny Wedding is an eminent Professor of Psychology and Director of Behavioral Sciences for the American University of Antigua, a Caribbean medical school. He previously served as the Associate Dean for Management & International Programs at the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP), Alliant International University for four years.



He is the co-author with Ryan Niemiec of an exciting new book entitled: 'Movies and Mental Illness - Using Films to Understand Psychopathology' published by Hogrefe.


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


Danny Wedding's new book


You can listen to this conversation between Raj Persaud and Professor Danny Wedding on a new free to download app on iTunes and google play store entitled 'Raj Persaud in conversation', which includes a lot of free information on the latest research findings in mental health, plus interviews with top experts from around the world. Download it free from these links





Get the book from here:






The popular and critically acclaimed teaching tool - movies as an aid to learning about mental illness - has just got even better! Now with even more practical features and expanded contents: full film index, 'Authors' Picks', sample syllabus, and more international films. Films are a powerful medium for teaching students of psychology, social work, medicine, nursing, counseling, and even literature or media studies about mental illness and psychopathology. "Movies and Mental Illness", now available in an updated edition, has established a great reputation as an enjoyable and highly memorable supplementary teaching tool for abnormal psychology classes. Written by experienced clinicians and teachers, who are themselves movie aficionados, this book is superb not just for psychology or media studies classes, but also for anyone interested in the portrayal of mental health issues in movies. The core clinical chapters of "Movies and Mental Illness" each use a fabricated case history and Mini-Mental State Examination along with synopses and scenes from one or two specific, often well-known films to explain, teach, and encourage discussion about the most important disorders encountered in clinical practice. Each chapter also includes: Critical Thinking Questions (to consider when viewing the core movie/s); "Authors' Picks" (Top 10 Films); 'What To Read if You Only Have Time to Read One Book/Paper'; and, suggested topics for class discussions. Other features of the new, expanded edition include: Full index of films; Sample course syllabus; Ratings of more than 1,250 films (expanded by 25 per cent!); and, other fascinating appendices, such as 'Top 50 Heroes and Villains', psychotherapists in movies, misconceptions about mental illness in movies, and recommended websites.

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



What the Psychology of World War Z - And Horror Films in General - Tell Us About Ourselves




The latest Brad Pitt block-buster movie World War Z - about a zombie apocalypse sweeping the world - has just opened in the UK. But does the immense global popularity of horror genre films like these reveal something dark lurking in our psyches? 


In a paper entitled Monsters Evolve: A Biocultural Approach to Horror Stories, Mathias Clasen from Aarhus University, recently argued that evolution has programmed our brains to be alert to, and fascinated by, violent danger in our environments. There was survival value in such hyper-vigilance.


The paper published in the academic journal Review of General Psychology, points out that the best way to get a sense of what life was like for hundreds of thousands of years for our ancestors, is to look at the everyday experiences of modern day so-called, primitive, hunter-gatherer tribes. A recent study of such foragers in Paraguay found 55% of all deaths were due to violence in one form or another.

Horror films, according to this theory, exploit our brains being wired up by our evolutionary past, to be gripped by any possibility of violence. 


What is particularly powerful about this evolutionary theory is that it follows that what scares us is remarkably similar, no matter what culture across the world we hail from. This is very different from what makes us laugh.



If you try watching a comedy film in a foreign language and from another culture, you're unlikely to find it anywhere near as amusing as one where you understand the language and the way of life. However, try watching a horror film under similar conditions, and even if you know nothing of the speech or society about which it's made, you're still likely to become scared.


But are there even murkier psychological reasons for why horror films are regarded within the industry as the most consistently performing Hollywood genre at the box office?


A study of 50 'Slasher' Horror films released in North America between 1960 and 2007, entitled Sex and Violence in the Slasher Horror Film: A Content Analysis of Gender Differences in the Depiction of Violence, found female characters were more likely, compared to male, to be victimized in scenes involving a concomitant presentation of sex and violence. 


The study by Dr Andrew Welsh, from the Department of Criminology and Contemporary Studies at Laurier Brantford University in Canada, argues that the origins of the modern 'slasher' movie can be traced back to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho(1960).



It's infamous shower scene introduced the basic plot elements of the male killer and the helpless female victim. These were to recur again and again in subsequent lucrative Horror film franchises including the Texas Chainsaw MassacreHalloween, and Friday the 13th.


Welsh argues that frequent depictions of nudity and immoral behaviour by victims, unfamiliar locations, sudden death scenes designed to maximize shock, have defined the slasher film formula since 'Psycho', and were all present in the original.


Welsh's study selected randomly 50 slasher horror films from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and 1960 was chosen as the starting point because Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, generally regarded as the first 'slasher' horror film, was released then. 


The findings of the study, published in the Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, include that forms of psychological aggression, such as intimidation, stalking, or chasing, disproportionately involved female characters compared to male. Violent interactions involving female victims were significantly longer in duration as compared to those involving a male victim. 


The study concludes that female characters in slasher horror films are significantly more likely to be victims in scenes involving sex and violence, as compared to male characters. Female characters are far more likely to be partially or fully naked and, when sexual and violent images are present, a woman is more likely to be the victim of attack.


This study of slasher horror films, reinforces concerns about women being frequently depicted in states of abject terror and helplessness. 


But the slasher horror 'formula' also includes the final surviving character usually being a woman. This is so common that she is referred to as the 'Final Girl'. Welch points out that other researchers are concerned that the surviving female character tends to possess 'idealized virginal qualities', distinguishing her from other non-surviving female characters. The underlying message is that female characters who defy traditional gender roles by engaging in assertive and/or promiscuous sexual behaviour, are punished.


This plot device appears to be echoed back in the original horror slasher movie -Psycho.


Zombie movies have also been subject to similar psychological analysis, and it's notable that ancient evolutionary fears of predation, contagion and the dead are all neatly combined by zombies. Such creatures being unequivocally bad and requiring terrific violence to dispatch them, might also appeal to unconscious aggressive motivations within us.


Christian Jarrett writing in The Psychologist, published by the British Psychological Society, points out in an article entitled, 'The lure of horror', zombies actually originated in Haiti. In reality they appear to have been the seriously mentally ill.


The fact horror films violate all everyday moral codes may be precisely their attraction. They provide a playground where we can indulge in the fantasy of not being governed by ethical complexity and rules. 


Because when you are facing death, life becomes refreshingly simple.



If you are interested in joining a conversation on the theme of mental illness in the movies, visit http://www.meetup.com/The-UK-CBT-Group/events/213809652/  to book tickets for a screening of ''A Dangerous Method' starring Kiera Knightley followed by a discussion open to the public chaired by Raj Persaud. In the audience will be members of the public as well as psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists, at the Royal College of Psychiatrists HQ, Prescott Street, Aldgate London, on 9th December at 6.30 for 7.00 pm - wine and canapés will be served.





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