Raj Persaud in conversation - the podcasts
Can Zombies Explain the Brain?

Raj Persaud talks to Timothy Verstynen about his new book on what Zombies can teach us about the brain, co-authored with Bradley Voytek

 

Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?
A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain
Timothy Verstynen & Bradley Voytek 


 

Winner of the 2015 PROSE Award in Biomedicine & Neuroscience, Association of American Publishers

Hardcover | 2014 | $19.95/ £13.95 | ISBN: 9780691157283

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10305.html

Even if you’ve never seen a zombie movie or television show, you could identify an undead ghoul if you saw one. With their endless wandering, lumbering gait, insatiable hunger, antisocial behavior, and apparently memory-less existence, zombies are the walking nightmares of our deepest fears. What do these characteristic behaviors reveal about the inner workings of the zombie mind? Could we diagnose zombism as a neurological condition by studying their behavior? In Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?, neuroscientists and zombie enthusiasts Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek apply their neuro-know-how to dissect the puzzle of what has happened to the zombie brain to make the undead act differently than their human prey.

 

Combining tongue-in-cheek analysis with modern neuroscientific principles, Verstynen and Voytek show how zombism can be understood in terms of current knowledge regarding how the brain works. In each chapter, the authors draw on zombie popular culture and identify a characteristic zombie behavior that can be explained using neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and brain-behavior relationships. Through this exploration they shed light on fundamental neuroscientific questions such as: How does the brain function during sleeping and waking? What neural systems control movement? What is the nature of sensory perception?

 

Walking an ingenious line between seriousness and satire, Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? leverages the popularity of zombie culture in order to give readers a solid foundation in neuroscience.

 

Timothy Verstynen is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and at the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at Carnegie Mellon University. Bradley Voytek is assistant professor of computational cognitive science and neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego. They are both members of the Zombie Research Society and are preparing grant applications to research the coming zombie apocalypse.

Review:

"If you've ever wondered which pathologies are responsible for the stiff and murderous personalities of zombies, this actual scientific explainer is the book for you."--Mental Floss

"Verstynen and Voytek's entertaining book uses zombies to help illustrate human neuroscience. . . . Zombie fans will want this book, and anyone concerned with neuroscience will find the topic made accessible by this lighthearted exploration."--Library Journal

"Neuroscientists and zombie enthusiasts Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek have recently come out with a new book called Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?, in which they apply their neuroscience backgrounds to an investigation of the undead. It's filled with pages of increasingly nerdy explorations of zombie behavior, and I highly recommend it, but what really caught my eye was the authors' conclusion: All the walking dead have Consciousness Deficit Hypoactivity Disorder, or CDHD."--Kyle Hill, Nerdist

"Voytek and Verstynen serve up an introduction to neuroscience but through the guise of zombies. Each chapter tackles a different zombie behavior and breaks it down through the current neuroscientific understanding of it. It's a kind of Neuroscience 101 that tackles complex ideas in a fun, enjoyable manner."--KPBS.org

"[Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? is] a quick, cheeky read told by the sort of people who toss out punchlines while watching films such as 28 Days Later and World War Z."--Gary Robbins, U-T San Diego

"[Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?] is smart, informative, historically riveting, well referenced, and like all good zombie stories, wonderfully fun. . . . If you want a sophisticated primer of neuroscience, coupled with a Halloween spin, then there can be no other book."--Steven C. Schlozman, Science

The interview on the neuroscience of zombies can be listened to on 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

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

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dr-raj-persaud-in-conversation/id927466223?mt=8


The Truman Show Delusion. The Truman Show Delusion and other curiosities - Dr Joel Gold talks to Dr Raj Persaud

Dr Joel Gold, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine, talks to Dr Raj Persaud about his new book which includes vivid descriptions of what may be a completely new delusion - The Truman Show Delusion - where a patient delusionally believes they are taking part in an all-encompassing reality TV show where they are the unwitting star as in the Jim Carrey movie 'The Truman Show'.

 

Suspicious Minds

How Culture Shapes Madness

 

A new book By Psychiatrist Dr Joel Gold and Philosopher Professor Ian Gold

 

What if you woke up with the alarming suspicion that you were being watched?

 

One day in 2003, a patient unlike any other that Dr. Joel Gold had seen before was admitted to his unit at Bellevue Hospital. This man claimed he was being filmed constantly and that his life was being broadcast around the world like The Truman Show—the 1998 film depicting a man who is unknowingly living out his life as the star of a popular soap opera. Over the next few years, Dr. Gold saw a number of patients suffering from what he and his brother, Dr. Ian Gold, began calling the “Truman Show delusion,” launching them on a quest to understand the nature of this particular phenomenon, of delusions more generally, and of madness itself.

 

The current view of delusions is that they are the result of biology gone awry, of neurons in the brain misfiring. In contrast, the Golds argue that delusions are the result of the interaction between the brain and the social world. By exploring the major categories of delusion through fascinating case studies and marshaling the latest research in schizophrenia, the brothers reveal the role of culture and the social world in the development of psychosis—delusions in particular. Suspicious Minds presents a groundbreaking new vision of just how dramatically our surroundings can influence our brains.

 

Order the book from here: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Suspicious-Minds/Joel-Gold/9781439181553

 

A related article which may be of interest:

 

Was it a Psychotic Episode in L. Ron Hubbard That Led Him to Found the Church of Scientology?

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/scientology-l-ron-hubbard_b_1656883.html

 

by Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen

 

A French Psychoanalyst, Dr Thierry Lamote, claims in a book (La Scientologie déchiffrée par la psychanalyse. La folie du fondateur, Universitaires du Mirail Press), and in a paper just published in the academic Journal 'L'Évolution Psychiatrique', that L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the religious group, The Church of Scientology, suffered a psychotic episode, which appears to be the foundation for the multi-million pound worldwide movement.

 

 

Scientology claims a host of celebrity followers, such as film star Tom Cruise. The unswerving devotion of many adherents alarms some people. Jenna Miscavige Hill, said to be an ex-Scientologist whose uncle is a Scientology Church leader, is quoted inThe Daily Telegraph Newspaper on 6 July as having publicly warned Katie Holmes, currently divorcing Tom Cruise, that Scientology was "no place for an innocent child", like her daughter Suri. Cruise and Holmes are said to be starting a custody battle, and it's possible that Cruise's high profile following of Scientology, might become a factor in the dispute.

 

 

Analysing the founder of Scientology's writings and biographical material, Dr Lamote's research contends it was Ron Hubbard's battle with psychotic symptoms that partly drew him to therapy approaches advocated by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. It seems he then exploited Freud to create a movement which its adherents would find difficult to leave.

 

 

In his paper entitled 'Scientology: A systematized delirious inspired by Breuer and Freud's Studies on hysteria', Dr Lamote claims Hubbard subsequently re-named various old techniques and ideas used by Freud (some dating from before Freud founded psychoanalysis) and incorporated them into Scientology. Part of the continuing power of the movement may lie in these Freudian approaches, Dr Lamote's analysis suggests. Supposedly unlocking and exploring the unconscious, can become psychologically 'addictive', explaining why so many find themselves drawn into Scientology, become dependent on it, and then are unable to understand why so many others remain suspicious of the movement.

 

 

Towards the end of the 1930s, Dr Lamote writes that Hubbard had a tooth extracted under nitrous oxide, also referred to as "laughing gas", used during general anaesthesia, but which can cause disturbing mind-altering effects. Lamote then points out that Hubbard, in a letter written on 1 January 1938, and other writings, relates a set of strange experiences as result, including hearing voices repeating enigmatic sentences such as, "Do not let him know!". They could sound like the kind of hallucinations Doctors associate with a psychotic illness.

 

 

Lamote found that Hubbard frequently returned to this painful experience, indicating how profoundly important it was to him, maybe a turning point.

 

 

Dr Lamote contends a psychotic process within Hubbard's mind had begun, but lay largely undetected by the outside world until possibly 1943 when Hubbard was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. He was put in charge of a naval gun ship, the USS PC-815, a submarine chaser. In what remains a controversial episode, Lt. Hubbard, shortly after setting to sea, appears to have heard things through the sonar and hydrophone indicating contact with an enemy submarine.

 

 

Over the next three days, he launched 37 depth charges, and claimed to have sunk an enemy submarine, while critically damaging another. But no other official in the Navy seems to have agreed. Instead Dr Lamote's research suggests that Hubbard was fighting a battle with delusional enemies.

 

 

Dr Lamote wonders if this was part of his developing a paranoid picture of the universe?

 

 

Around this crucial time, Dr Lamote's paper points out, the exploding of the Hiroshima bomb perhaps profoundly shook and maybe further destabilised him. Formerly a science fiction writer, Hubbard appears to have become disillusioned, even perhaps frightened by the power of science. This combined with his mounting anxiety that society needed to be controlled, otherwise war and total annihilation was inevitable, possibly laid the seeds for the controlling nature of the movement he founded.

 

 

Lamote's paper contends that Hubbard turned to the science of cybernetics of control, in order to build a religious movement at the heart of which would be control over large numbers, in order to reduce the risk of self-destruction, which appeared to him to be mankind's destiny.

 

 

Into this mix Lamote believes Hubbard threw in teachings from psychoanalysts' Freud and his colleague Breuer, who were some of the earliest proponents of the idea that psychological distress arose out of repressed memories from earlier in life, which required access, through therapy, in order for us to achieve well-being. Hubbard had many physical symptoms and Lamote wonders whether the early psychoanalytic idea, that some physical symptoms had a psychological cause buried deep in the unconscious, may have influenced him. Through this approach, he may have found relief from his own physical symptoms.

 

 

Dr Lamote argues that Hubbard pioneered an idea of an 'engram' which is a kind of memory of pain which goes back so far into the past to include the pain of cell division, when we first started as an organism, but could retreat even further, to past or parental lives. The techniques of Dianetics, contends Dr Lamote's paper, include many which resembled counterparts in psychoanalysis such as hypnosis and abreaction, where past trauma is encouraged to be emotionally ventilated.

 

 

Tom Cruise did jump up and down in apparent agitation on Oprah's sofa during a televised interview.

 

 

It is this borrowing from psychotherapy and psychoanalysis that Dr Lamote work suggests partly explains the powerful appeal of Scientology to so many, and ironically enough, its founder Ron Hubbard. Just as therapy can be addictive, so can Scientology, because it borrows similar techniques but re-labels them. Like psychoanalysis it offers a universal therapeutic method, supposed to solve all human ills.

 

Dr Lamote points out there is almost a sense in which Freud has been re-discovered and re-packaged by Scientology.

 

 

Back in 2005 Tom Cruise was reported to have condemned the actress Brook Shields after she went public on the benefit she received from anti-depressant medication, while suffering from serious postpartum depression. Scientology is traditionally virulently anti-psychiatry, and anti-psychiatric treatments such as its medication.

 

 

It might be ironic, therefore, if Hubbard, founder of a strongly anti-psychiatric movement had been heavily influenced right back in the beginning, by what some would regard as the most famous psychiatrist of all, Sigmund Freud.

 

Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen are joint podcast editors for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and also now have 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:

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

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dr-raj-persaud-in-conversation/id927466223?mt=8

Books by Raj Persaud are available on amazon.co.uk here:

 


Can God Lie? Dallas Denery discusses his new book 'The Devil Wins'

The Devil Wins:
A History of Lying from the Garden of Eden to the Enlightenment
Dallas G. Denery II

 

From the Princeton University Press website: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10323.html

 

 

Is it ever acceptable to lie? This question plays a surprisingly important role in the story of Europe’s transition from medieval to modern society. According to many historians, Europe became modern when Europeans began to lie—that is, when they began to argue that it is sometimes acceptable to lie. This popular account offers a clear trajectory of historical progression from a medieval world of faith, in which every lie is sinful, to a more worldly early modern society in which lying becomes a permissible strategy for self-defense and self-advancement. Unfortunately, this story is wrong.

 

For medieval and early modern Christians, the problem of the lie was the problem of human existence itself. To ask “Is it ever acceptable to lie?” was to ask how we, as sinners, should live in a fallen world. As it turns out, the answer to that question depended on who did the asking. The Devil Wins uncovers the complicated history of lying from the early days of the Catholic Church to the Enlightenment, revealing the diversity of attitudes about lying by considering the question from the perspectives of five representative voices—the Devil, God, theologians, courtiers, and women. Examining works by Augustine, Bonaventure, Martin Luther, Madeleine de Scudéry, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and a host of others, Dallas G. Denery II shows how the lie, long thought to be the source of worldly corruption, eventually became the very basis of social cohesion and peace.

 

Dallas G. Denery II is associate professor of history at Bowdoin College. He is the author of Seeing and Being Seen in the Later Medieval World: Optics, Theology, and Religious Life and the coeditor of Uncertain Knowledge: Scepticism, Relativism, and Doubt in the Middle Ages.

Review:

"[The Devil Wins is] an informative, sophisticated, and thought-provoking account of the efforts of theologians and philosophers from the early Christian era to the Enlightenment to define lies and understand their ethical, social, and political implications."--Glenn Altschuler, Psychology Today

"Denery explores analyses of an enormous variety of deceptions, and does so with an erudition that is never pedantic or monotonous. He is an entertaining writer, with a healthy skepticism about the dogmatic condemnation of lying as always, or even mostly, morally blameworthy. . . . I think Nietzsche would have loved this book."--Clancy Martin, Chronicle of Higher Education

Endorsement:

"In this exquisitely written book, Denery draws on centuries of rumination on the moral issues surrounding lying to address the question of how we should live in a fallen world. The serpent in the Garden of Eden led humankind astray with lies. The Devil is the father of lies. Premodern sources agonized constantly over the act of lying. Denery not only superbly narrates the long history of this obsession, but also locates the conditions that reveal an Enlightenment shift toward a not entirely comfortable modernity."--William Chester Jordan, Princeton University

"Can God lie? Are women ‘born liars’? These are just two of the questions Denery asks--and answers--in his wide-ranging, erudite study. Written in an engaging and accessible style, The Devil Wins sheds a new and fascinating light on a mendacious world stretching from the Book of Genesis to the dawn of the Enlightenment."--Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, author of Poets, Saints, and Visionaries of the Great Schism, 1378–1417

 

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 original paper by Dallas Denery "From Sacred Mystery to Divine Deception: Robert Holkot, John Wyclif and the Transformation of Fourteenth-Century Eucharistic Discourse,"  Journal of Religious History, June 2005:129-44.

Article in PDFPDF»

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.

A related article which may be of interest first published in The Huffington Post by Raj Persaud and Aldert Vrij

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/how-to-tell-who-is-lying-to-you_b_1550456.html

 

How to Tell Who is Lying to You - The Latest Psychological Research

 

Syria's UN envoy has condemned what he called a "tsunami of lies" being told by some members of the United Nations Security Council. Bashar Jaafari is arguing Syrian forces were not to blame for a massacre in which 108 people were killed and 300 injured, but for which the UN blames heavy weapons by Syria's government.

In the face of what can seem like a 'tsunami of lies' on every horizon, we appear in dire need of the skill to spot who is actually telling the truth, to keep our heads above the rising tide. For example, the Leveson Inquiry continues to pursue the facts, yet some newspapers now prefer body language analysis when reporting what witnesses have said, apparently in order to glimpse the reality behind the words.

The latest psychological research on deception detection casts doubt as to whether the way the inquiry poses questions is likely to penetrate the defences of dissemblers.

It may come as a surprise that so-called experts are not good at spotting lying, but a review of 39 scientific studies by Professor of Applied Social Psychology, Aldert Vrij, a world authority on the science of deception, reveals an average accuracy rate of just 56.6% - in other words for over a third of the time lies go undetected. Men and women are no better than each other, Professor Vrij reports, and professional lie catchers such as police officers and customs officers are generally no superior to the lay public in detecting deceit.

One of the reasons we are so bad at spotting deception is there are widespread erroneous beliefs about what behaviours betray the telling of lies. For example, one of the commonest mistakes is that liars increase their body movements, the famous shiftiness, gaze aversion and fidgeting of a dissembler. In fact scientific research on this demonstrates the opposite is more true, liars more often decrease their body movements and tend to hold your gaze.

So can we learn from the psychological research into deception, to improve our ability to detect deception, and can these techniques help inquiries such as Leveson to sift fake answers from truth?

In fact there are many psychological strategies pioneered by experts such as Professor Vrij, who is based at the University of Portsmouth, which would help us all become better lie detectors, and many are detailed in his book Detecting lies and deceit: Pitfalls and opportunities (published by Wiley). Space only allows two to be mentioned here, both of which are notable in their absence from the style of questioning thus far in the Leveson Inquiry.

The first is called the 'Baseline Method', and it's based on the important principle that there is in fact no one behaviour that is universally characteristic of liars, but when any particular individual starts to stray from the truth, various cognitive, emotional and physiological processes kick in, which it is possible to detect.

But you can only spot these if you already have the 'baseline' of how someone behaves when they are telling the truth, and then compare that with the moment when you wonder if they have begun to lie.

Professor Vrij quotes a real-life example of a videotaped police interview with a murderer being asked to describe a whole day, not just the key moment the police believed he committed the homicide. Detailed analyses of the tape revealed a sudden change in behaviour as soon as the suspect started to describe his activities during the particular time of forensic interest. It was the contrast between his description of times when he didn't have to lie as he spoke, as no crime had occurred then, compared with the period the police were most interested in which was significant.

During his description of the part of the day when the police knew the murder had occurred, he spoke slower, added more pauses, and made fewer movements, compared to the baseline, the other parts of the day the police had patiently asked in detail about. He met the victim and killed her during the period where his behaviour changed when covering up.

Professor Vrij cautions that often interrogators misunderstand the true subtlety of this research finding and misapply it. Crucial in the use of the baseline technique is that correct parts of the interview are compared. Unfortunately, too often in police interviews 'small talk' at the beginning is used to establish a baseline. This is an incorrect way of deploying the technique as small talk and the actual police interviews are totally different situations. Both the guilty and innocent tend to change their behavior the moment the actual interview starts, not least because both are bound to become more nervous then.

Another psychological technique for better spotting lies pioneered by Professor Vrij and colleagues is called 'Devil's Advocate'. Interviewees are first asked questions inviting them to argue in favour of their personal view (eg "What are your reasons for supporting the US in the war in Afghanistan?"). This is followed by a Devil's Advocate question that asks interviewees to argue against their personal view (eg "Playing Devil's Advocate, is there anything you can say against the involvement of the US in Afghanistan?").

The 'Devil's Advocate Question' is an attempt to flush out what the interviewee truly believes, as if they are lying about their position on the war in Afghanistan, for example, the Devil's Advocate Question is actually what they really believe, but are covering up. As we think more deeply about, and are more able to generate, reasons that support rather than oppose our beliefs, this leaks out during the answer to the Devil's Advocate Question.

In effect, for liars the Devil's Advocate approach is a set-up where they first lie when answering the opinion-eliciting question, and are then lured into telling the truth when answering the Devil's Advocate question. Normally we aren't very good at giving reasons for a position we don't hold, so most people aren't good at being a 'devil's advocate' in this situation. Liars however are caught out because they now tend to give fuller and better answers in response to being asked to be a devil's advocate than non-liars. Using this technique Professor Vrij and colleagues found 75% of truth tellers and 78% of liars could be classified correctly.

But before we are too quick to judge those in the headlines who find themselves accused of lying, the psychological research indicates that ordinary people tell an average of 1.5 lies a day, but this rate can climb dramatically because how likely you are to deceive depends a lot on the situation you find yourself in. For example, studies find that 83% of students would lie to get a job and 90% are willing to lie on first dates to secure favorable impressions.

Raúl López-Pérez and Eli Spiegelman, academic Economists, point out in their paper entitled Why do people tell the truth? Experimental evidence for pure lie aversion, soon to be published, that one of the downsides of living in an acquisitive free market economy is how much we constantly gain materially by providing false information.

From doing our accounts, auditing, insurance claims, job interviews, negotiations, regulatory hearings, tax compliance, and all sorts of other situations we stand to gain if we lie, these economists point out, and indeed we are penalised if we are honest.

Given all the incentives to lie, López-Pérez and Spiegelman from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Université de Québec a Montréal, believe the more interesting question is not why do we lie, but instead, why do some people tell the truth? Perhaps more precisely, why do some stick to the truth even when it's not in their interests?

In their research 38.76% of subjects taking part in their experiments, chose to tell the truth even when they would suffer a penalty as a result. López-Pérez and Spiegelman come up with an intriguing new theory of lying where they believe there is a minority of the population who suffer from what they call 'pure lie aversion'. This means some tell the truth because of an innate abhorrence for lying.

López-Pérez and Spiegelman argue this is a significant force behind honesty which has hitherto been neglected by science. It's certainly a factor we should perhaps look for more in our politicians, but then again, maybe we get the lying leaders we deserve because we're constantly seduced into voting for the best con artists. Perhaps all electorates should become more educated in Professor Vrij's techniques before casting their vote.

López-Pérez and Spiegelman also found that those who lied were significantly more likely to believe that others would lie as well. This means the more our politicians and authority figures, even friends or colleagues lie, the more deception will continue spreading.

Dr Raj Persaud is a Consultant Psychiatrist based in London and Aldert Vrij (PhD) is a Professor of Applied Social Psychology who has published almost 400 articles and 7 books on the above topics, including his 2008 book Detecting lies and deceit: Pitfalls and opportunities (published by Wiley), a comprehensive overview of research into nonverbal, verbal and physiological deception and lie detection.

 

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.

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

 

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dr-raj-persaud-in-conversation/id927466223?mt=8

 

 

 


Committed to an Asylum. Claire explains what it's like to be committed to a psychiatric hospital against your will

What is it like to be committed to a psychiatric hospital against your will? This is surely one of the most frightening experiences anyone could endure? Claire was placed under a variety of sections of the Mental Health Act and as a result found herself committed on several occasions to various psychiatric institutions. Raj Persaud talks to her to get her story out to the world on what it's like to be 'sectioned'. The interview was organised thanks to assistance from Mind - the mental health charity. Many thanks to Aimee Gee of Mind for assisting in making this interview possible.

A related article which may be of interest first published in The Huffington Post by Raj Persaud and David James

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/nhs-complaints_b_4108370.html

How Having, or Not Having, an NHS Psychiatric Bed Can Kill You

An investigation by BBC News and Community Care magazine into 53 of England's Mental Health Trusts reveals that 1,711 mental health beds have been closed since April 2011, including 277 between April and August 2013, representing a 9% reduction in the total number of mental health beds available in 2011/12.

 

 

The BBC News website reports possible consequences including the tragic case of 39-year-old Mandy Peck who told clinicians she was feeling suicidal, but her local mental health service centre initially claimed no beds were vacant. She jumped to her death from a multi-storey car park shortly afterwards.

 

 

As psychiatrists who have worked in the NHS, we have both experienced the chaos of trying to find a bed for a patient who needs one urgently.

 

 

The enormous pressure on the staff to find a bed means that the modern NHS becomes a constant fight for beds, creating stressful conflict with other clinicians. Even if you (eventually) secure an admission for your patient, this is at the expense of the patient who was previously in that bed, who, in order to accommodate the new admission, gets moved to another part of the country, or is discharged, or sent on leave prematurely.

 

 

Providing any kind of therapy in this frenzied environment is not possible. Admitting someone in a fragile mental state into this siege atmosphere means you are only arranging an admittance to prevent suicide or harm to others, rather than offering help to the mentally ill in need of care. You have become a form of warder, not a clinician.

 

 

The National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness at the University of Manchester, published in July 1013, reports that during 2001-2011, in England, 13,469 deaths (28% of general population suicides) were patient suicides. These are persons who had been in contact with mental health services in the 12 months prior to death.

 

 

There has been a projected rise in 2011 (the last year for which data is available). In 2001 there were 1261 suicides by people in contact with mental health services and this figure had risen to a projected number of 1333 by 2011, during a period when it now looks like more beds were being lost.

 

 

Patrick Keown, Gavin Mercer and Jan Scott published a recent analysis in the British Medical Journal, finding that between 1996 and 2006 in England the number of NHS psychiatric beds decreased by 29%. Entitled Retrospective analysis of hospital episode statistics, involuntary admissions under the Mental Health Act 1983, and number of psychiatric beds in England 1996-2006, their investigation found involuntary patients occupied 23% of NHS psychiatric beds in 1996, but 36% in 2006.

 

 

The authors conclude that inpatient care transformed considerably in the decade from 1996 to 2006; more involuntary admissions to fewer NHS beds. The case mix shifted further towards psychotic and substance misuse disorders, altering the atmosphere of inpatient wards.

 

 

One interpretation of this data, and our personal experience supports this, is that the ambience on wards has changed, and for the worse, in terms of providing a therapeutic environment. Psychiatric in-patient units are now much more likely to be precarious containment areas for the extremely seriously mentally ill, not a haven, nor asylum from stress for those who need help.

 

 

For these reasons, being admitted to a psychiatric ward today may in fact be an added source of stress - not a therapeutic experience at all.

 

 

Some evidence for this comes from a recent investigation of a consecutive series of individuals aged 18 to 65 who died by suicide between the 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2006 in England, the date of death being within seven days of the date of admission to a psychiatric ward.

 

 

The study entitled, Suicide in recently admitted psychiatric in-patients: A case-control study, found around a quarter of all in-patient suicides occurred within the first week of admission to psychiatric in-patient care. 46% of cases died on the ward itself; the majority by hanging. 40% of suicide cases died within the first three days of admission. A fifth of all suicides were on authorised leave at the time of death, but 34% were off the ward without staff agreement, compared to only 1% of controls.

 

 

The authors, Isabelle Hunt, Harriet Bickley, Kirsten Windfuhr, Jenny Shaw, Louis Appleby and Nav Kapur, conclude that contrary to previous relevant research, this investigation examining wards in England found a short length of illness (less than 12 months duration) was independently predictive of suicide in the immediate admission period.

 

 

The study, published in the 'Journal of Affective Disorders' in 2013, contends that it may be that receiving a psychiatric diagnosis requiring in-patient treatment is particularly stressful, plus the experience of entering an environment that patients have described as ''frightening'' and ''intimidating' probably increases, rather than diminishes, suicidal feelings.

 

 

The authors considered there could also be an association between being admitted to a psychiatric ward and a heightened sense of being stigmatised.

 

 

Given that those on authorised and unauthorised leave account for such a large proportion of in-patient suicides from their data, the authors of this study point to two recent court cases in England after the suicide of a detained patient who absconded (Savage v. South Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, 2008) and a voluntary patient who died by suicide whilst on leave (Rabone v. Pennine Care NHS Trust, 2012).

 

 

The authors of the study point out that these cases were viewed as a breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which safeguards the right to life), resulting in a new obligation for health authorities and hospital staff to protect patients where there is a ''real and immediate'' risk of suicide.

 

 

The danger of the current headlines over fewer beds is that it's not just the numbers that are important - the quality of the bed, as it were, is vital. What is the point of offering a bed if the quality of the experience is so poor, aspects of it contribute to feeling worse?

 

 

The NHS neglects quality of care, which has been sacrificed on the altar of numbers, because numbers are so political.

 

 

Numbers of beds dominates the debate - and numbers are important because we have had too few beds for the system to be safe for some time now. And the decline in bed numbers appears to continue inexorably. But we should be looking beyond numbers to human beings, focusing as well on the quality of what patients get, when they actually get anything at all.

 

 

 

 

Raj Persaud is a Consultant Psychiatrist in Private Practice in Harley Street, London UK and author of several best-selling books including ‘The Mind: A Users Guide’ published by Bantam Press. Dr David James is an eminent Forensic Psychiatrist.

 

 

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.

 

 

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

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dr-raj-persaud-in-conversation/id927466223?mt=8

 

His books are available on amazon.co.uk here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Mind-A-Users-Guide/dp/0593056353

 


Are you in control of you? How much control do we have over our own lives? Magda Osman talks to Raj Persaud

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 - the original paper by Magda Osman published in 'The Psychologist' entitled 'Does our Unconscious rule?' 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.

From the Palgrave Macmillan website:

http://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/futureminded-magda-osman/?K=9781137022264

Future-Minded

The Psychology of Agency and Control

Magda Osman

 

What drives us to make decisions?

Future-Minded explores the psychological processes of agency and control. If you've ever wondered why we think of coincidences as matters of fate rather than the result of the laws of probability, this book provides the answer. From memory and reasoning to our experiences of causality and consciousness, it unpicks the mechanisms we use on a daily basis to help us predict, plan for and attempt to control the future.

ISBN 9781137022264
Publication Date March 2014
Formats Paperback Ebook (PDF) Ebook (EPUB) Hardcover 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan

 

Future-Minded

 

A related article which may be of interest first published in The Huffington Post 02/08/2012 16:32 BST

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/inside-the-mind-of-the-ol_b_1731758.html

 

Inside the Mind of the Olympic Gold Medal Winner

By Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham

Winning the Gold Medal in the Olympics appears a pinnacle in any elite athlete's career, but physical fitness or technical skill may not, in fact, be the crucial factor. Increasingly sports scientists are becoming convinced that it's grit and determination, resilience and desire, which separates winners from losers.

Motivation triumphs over muscle.

But what precisely are these mysterious, hidden, but crucial mental aspects which separate the winners from the rest, who appear to be trying just as hard? Can the rest of us benefit as well from the psychological strategies of our Olympic Gold Medal winners?

Dr David Fletcher and Mustafa Sarkar, sport and performance psychologists at Loughborough University, (where much of the science behind the training of Team GB's current medal campaign has been developed) have just published one of the most in-depth studies ever, getting inside the mind of Olympic Gold Medal winners.

The investigation, published in the academic journal 'Psychology of Sport and Exercise', involved an analysis of 12 Olympic Gold Medal winners' accounts to the researchers of how they used their minds to win.

The first startling finding is that all these champions' lives were not dominated by accomplishment before getting Gold. Instead they constantly encountered obstacles and set backs on the path to success, yet it was their mental resilience in the face of adversity, which is what seemed to separate them from the rest of the field, and pulled them through to eventual victory.

One champion's reaction to being de-selected for a major international competition illustrates relentless optimism and a proactive approach, characteristic of Olympic Gold Medal winners; 'There were four of us challenging for these final two places and I got told I was on the reserve list. And at the time it was devastating but it's one of those things; if you don't take a ticket in the raffle, you're never going to win a prize. So you have to take the ticket that's part of life and it just makes you think "well, what can I do differently to make sure I do get success"?

Paradoxically, not being selected for major international competitions was frequently cited by Gold Medallists as the foundation for increased endeavour and exertion. Competition losses were viewed as learning opportunities, enabling future improved performances. Set-backs were re-interpreted in ways which meant they merely re-doubled their efforts, and didn't become disheartened.

Failure didn't break them - it made them.

One of the most intriguing findings from Fletcher and Sarkar's study is that while journalists love to wheel out the cliché of 'sacrifice' when invoking elite performance, it wasn't a concept these Gold Medal winners understood.

Instead the world's best athletes take huge personal responsibility for their choices, and are surprisingly uncomplaining about how much they forfeit for their sport. They accepted they actively chose the challenges they encountered, and as a result endured a wildly different work/life balance to the rest of us, as one commented to the researchers; 'We all worked. But in terms of the build up to the Olympics, we didn't bat an eyelid in doing it... it was our choice to do it. I don't like the word sacrifice... Sacrifice to me is about last resort and there's no alternative... that's rubbish. We made a choice to do that and I think that choice in what we did we highly valued and I think that inspired us, motivated us to perform on the pitch and as a group.'

One Gold Medal winner's reaction to training during unsociable hours is characteristic; 'I remember one of my coaches saying to me what was I doing over Christmas and I said 'Oh, I'll be training twice on Christmas Day . I know [opponent's name] won't be training on Christmas Day twice and that will give me the edge'. It was more the mental side of things because I knew that I'd be doing something that he wasn't doing.'

These private dimensions of winning tend not to be confided to the microphones thrust in winners' faces as they step down from the victory podium. Their sharing of such intimate secrets to success is therefore what makes this Loughborough University study so rare and valuable.

An example of their incessant thinking and re-thinking of every fine detailed aspect of their lives is this quote from a champion cyclist to the researchers; 'Initially, training was just something to get out of the way. And then gradually I'd do training and I'd think, "Am I getting the most out of this? Am I exploiting the session?" And, you know, if I did take a bad lift in the gym I'd think, "I could have done that better. That's a missed opportunity. What have I got to do to be better?" So I had an obsession on getting everything right rather than just waiting for the day of the final and then hoping. It was about getting everything right before the final so I had all the tools ready for when I was racing.'

Another undisclosed aspect of the mind of winners is what almost seems a sense of destiny - as this comment to Dr David Fletcher and Mustafa Sarkar illustrates; 'I don't know if there is going to be a theme where timing and luck have been in the right place, but I'm a great believer in it. I wasn't selected for the original trip... and on the Thursday night before they [the team] were leaving, I was called up because an individual's wife had gone into labor [and I was told] 'be at [the airport] the next day: we're playing [country] on the Saturday'.

They believe they make their own luck and that those who persevere will eventually benefit from chance.

Perhaps the greatest shock that is going to come from Fletcher and Sarkar's study entitled, 'A grounded theory of psychological resilience in Olympic champions', is that these Olympic Gold Medal winners were not as fixated, as the media and the nation appears to be, on winning gold.

Instead, it was fulfilling their athletic potential which primarily motivated them, rather than becoming an Olympic champion. Some involved in this research pointed out, amazingly, that their gold medal performance was not, in their view, the most outstanding moment in their career.

The following comment illustrates an athlete's viewpoint on her gold medal performance in the 2000 Olympic Games; 'This may come as a bit of a shock but I didn't have a great competition in Sydney. I was consistent... but it wasn't a great performance... '

The research on competitors who are most likely to cheat, via doping or any other means, is that if it's being on the podium, waving the Gold Medal and soaking up the applause which is what is primarily driving you, then you will be tempted to take a short cut to get there.

But there are competitors, and this may sound strange after a week when the nation became obsessed with getting a Gold, for whom the Gold Medal doesn't represent what it does for the rest of us praying for one. Instead the Gold Medal to these elite performers is merely an acknowledgement of excellence, and it's that total mastery of self and sport which has always been the primary ambition. For these athletes coming first would still be vital, no matter if there was no audience, no media and no medal.

The medal is merely a measure, not a goal.

These contestants, research has found, are much less likely to cheat in any way, no matter what temptation is placed in front of them.

In a week where various forms of 'cheating' have dominated the sports news agenda, there is a danger in our obsession for Gold, that we could forget this fundamental aspect of the Olympic ideal.

 

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

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

 

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dr-raj-persaud-in-conversation/id927466223?mt=8


Hospitalized against your will. Margaret was committed to a Psychiatric Institution against her will

Margaret talks to Raj Persaud about her frightening experience of being admitted to a psychiatric hospital against her will with no idea as to why this was happening. This interview was made possible by 'Mind' - the mental health charity and particular thanks go to Aimee Gee of 'Mind', for her assistance in making it possible.

 

A related article which may be of interest:

 

Should Anorexics Be Force-Fed?

 

By Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen

 

first published in The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/should-anorexics-be-force_b_1608531.html

 

Should Anorexics be force fed? The latest legal ruling could kill the patient - but doing nothing might also condemn her to death.

 

The Daily Telegraph has reported that a leading judge who sits in the Court of Protection, Mr Justice Peter Jackson, has ruled that a former medical student suffering from severe anorexia nervosa, and who is at a life-threatening low weight, should be force-fed against her wishes by doctors.

 

Dr Evan Harris, the former Liberal Democrat MP and member of the British Medical Association's ethics committee, is quoted by the Daily Telegraph to have responded: "The implications of force-feeding are really significant because she would need restraining or sedation and the treatment would last a year... It might not succeed and is itself life-threatening. To impose that on a patient who might be competent in refusing treatment is a very major step."

 

The 32-year-old woman is described as not having eaten solid food for a year and her parents are reported by the Daily Telegraph to have told the court: "It upsets us greatly to advocate for our daughter's right to die... We feel she has suffered enough..."

 

Mr Justice Jackson is reported by the newspaper to have conceded the woman stood only a 20% chance of recovery even if she was put on an invasive force-feeding programme that would last at least a year.

 

Is it really true that medical intervention can be as dangerous as leaving people with an eating disorder to starve themselves to death? And is it also true that it's pretty pointless anyway?

 

In a 2010 study by Dr Marie Vignaud from the University Hospital of Clermont-Ferrand, France, all patients with Anorexia Nervosa admitted to 11 Intensive Care Units in France between 2006-2008 were investigated, and of 68 admissions, seven died during the admission.

 

The study published in the academic medical journal Critical Care, found the commonest cause of death was 'Refeeding Syndrome'. This is a potentially fatal shift in fluid and electrolyte levels (minerals such as sodium, potassium and calcium which are distributed around the body where the delicate balance across cell membranes is vital for life) that may occur in the malnourished receiving artificial nutrition.

 

Precisely because of the dangers of re-feeding, Dr Vignaud and colleagues contend oral re-feeding is the best approach to weight restoration. But faced with absolute refusal to eat, or in cases with extreme malnutrition, feeding via a nasogastric tube may be life-saving, the authors argue. In even more extreme cases, or when the digestive tract itself is no longer functioning, intravenous feeding should be used despite the risks, they believe.

 

 

Vignaud and colleagues point out the dangers of medical re-feeding have to be balanced against the fact that Anorexia Nervosa is in itself one of the most fatal psychiatric disorders, with a mortality rate of almost 6% for every 10 years of having the illness; 12 times the rate expected for similar age- and gender-matched groups.

 

 

It's perhaps sobering to realise in the light of these statistics that rates of anorexia appear to have been going up since the 1930's. A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry by a group lead by Anna Keski-Rahkonen at the University of Helsinki, Finland, found that up to 50% of Anorexia Nervosa cases remain undetected by healthcare systems. Current estimates are that lifetime prevalence rates for Anorexia Nervosa in 20-40-year-old women are estimated between 1.2% and 2.2%. The rates for other milder eating disorders would be much higher.

 

 

In a study yet to be officially published, Daniel Rigaud and colleagues from the Service d'Endocrinologie-Nutrition, in Dijon France, followed up 41 severely malnourished anorexia nervosa patients and compared them with 443 less malnourished Anorexia Nervosa patients. The severely malnourished group of 41 had reached an average seriously low weight of 26 kilograms (four stones 1.3 pounds) with an average height of 160 cm (5.2 feet) which translates to an average Body Mass Index of 10 (bear in mind the normal healthy range is roughly 20-25).

 

 

Body Mass Index is the measure nutritionists use to calculate whether your weight is healthy as it takes into account your height. The formula is your weight in kilograms divided by your height in metres squared. A BMI lower than 10 kg/m2 in adults is widely considered incompatible with life.

 

Rigaud's study, due to be published in the academic journal 'Clinical Nutrition', found that all of the 41 severely malnourished anorexia patients received tube-refeeding: but during the in-patient stay, one patient died, two others suffered from myocardial infarction, two others from acute pancreatitis, and five from mental confusion.

 

 

Compared with the other 443 less severe Anorexia Nervosa patients (average weight in this less severe group was 40 kg or six stone 4.2 pounds), the 40 remaining patients (one died shortly after admission) had a worse six year outcome: a further two died (7% versus 1.2% in the 443 less ill group), and only 41% recovered (versus 62% in the less ill group).

 

 

Rigaud and colleagues conclude that in Anorexia Nervosa patients with a Body Mass Index of less than 11 kg/m2, prudent tube-refeeding could avoid short-term mortality, but long-term, the prognosis remains ominous.

 

 

Perhaps part of the problem lies in the very battle against the fervent desire of the anorexic; perhaps something is being missed. Jill Holm-Denoma and colleagues at the University of Vermont, USA, in 2008 proposed a theory that the high death rate in anorexia nervosa may be linked also to an especially high suicide motivation, which may have been previously missed by clinicians and relatives. Their study is based on previous research which finds the risk of death by suicide among anorexic women is approximately 57 times the expected rate.

 

 

The study, published in the 'Journal of Affective Disorders', considered the suicides of nine women with Anorexia Nervosa. They were found to be more likely to use highly lethal methods, with low rescue potential, that would likely kill anyone. Three died by throwing themselves in front of a train, and two more died by hanging.

 

 

Another reason courts may have to intervene against the wishes of severely anorexic patients, doctors argue, is their brains are likely to be incapable of reasoning rationally because the mind itself begins to be affected by the malnutrition. Brain imaging studies find reduced cerebral volume and the greater and faster the weight loss, the smaller the total brain volume. Refeeding, if it leads to weight gain, can largely reverse this brain shrinkage.

 

 

The latest study to report this kind of finding was conducted by a group lead by Boris Suchana from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany, in a study published in the journal 'Behavioural Brain Research' in 2010. This intriguing brain imaging study found a particular reduction in gray matter density with anorexia sufferers in a specific part of the brain associated with body size misjudgement. This raises the possibility that sufferers from anorexia get caught in a vicious cycle whereby losing weight might produce brain changes which in turn alter perception, and thus encourage more weight loss.

 

 

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious and complex disorder for which treatment must be tailored to the needs of the individual, but where 'the system' seldom allows this. Life saving intervention is required more than in most other psychiatric disorders.

 

 

Patrick Keown from Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead, and colleagues, published in the British Medical Journal in July 2011 an analysis on the impact of the dramatic reduction in UK NHS psychiatric hospital beds between 1988-2008 - a period when alternatives to hospital admission in the form of community care was supposed to be provided.

 

 

Keown and colleagues found the rate of involuntary admissions (being 'sectioned' under the Mental Health Act) per year in the NHS increased by more than 60%, while the provision of mental illness beds decreased by more than 60% over the same period. The authors calculated the closure of two mental illness beds contributes to an additional involuntary admission in the subsequent year. This data referred to all of psychiatry - not just eating disorders - but it might also contribute to our understanding of why anorexia has ended up in the courts, and in the news now.

 

 

A dramatic rise in the use of compulsory admissions over the last two decades does not mean that psychiatric disorders have in their nature got worse, but that the prospects for those who have them seem more bleak.

 

 

This is because a progressively starved, more disorganised NHS is less effectively caring.

 

 

Those desperately trying to look after patients who've reached the end of this road, are therefore forced to seek help from sources outside the health service.

 

So now we dispense with the doctors, and retain the lawyers.

 

 

Raj Persaud is a Consultant Psychiatrist in Private Practice in Harley Street, London UK and author of several best-selling books including ‘The Mind: A Users Guide’ published by Bantam Press. 

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.

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

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dr-raj-persaud-in-conversation/id927466223?mt=8

His books are available on amazon.co.uk here:

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Mind-A-Users-Guide/dp/0593056353

 


An Atheist's History of Belief - Matthew Kneale discusses his new book with Raj Persaud

An Atheist's History of Belief: Understanding Our Most Extraordinary Invention

Matthew Kneale

From Random House website:

 

http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/editions/an-atheists-history-of-belief-understanding-our-most-extraordinary-invention/9781448163311

 

What first prompted prehistoric man, sheltering in the shadows of deep caves, to call upon the realm of the spirits? 

And why has belief thrived ever since, leading us to invent heaven and hell, sin and redemption, and above all, gods?

Religion reflects our deepest hopes and fears; whether you are a believer or, like Matthew Kneale, a non-believer who admires mankind's capacity to create and to imagine, it has shaped our world. And as our dreams and nightmares have changed over the millennia, so have our beliefs - from shamans to Aztec priests, from Buddhists to Christians: the gods we created have evolved with us. 

Belief is humanity's most epic invention. It has always been our closest companion and greatest consolation. To understand it is to better understand ourselves.

 

 

 

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.

 

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

 

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dr-raj-persaud-in-conversation/id927466223?mt=8

 

a related article which may be of interest:

 

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

 

Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham

originally published in The Huffington Post 

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/does-pure-evil-exist_b_4134835.html

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

We become the very Demons and Angels we think exist.

 

We make them come true.

 

Direct download: RP_Matthew_Kneale.mp3
Category:(2) General Podcasts -- posted at: 11:39pm UTC

Virtual Reality Therapy. Will Virtual Reality replace therapists? Raj Persaud talks to Leanne Casey and Wesley Turner

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/religious-beliefs-and-depression_b_5165183.html

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

RAJ PERSAUD AND PETER BRUGGEN

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Download it free from these links:

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

 

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dr-raj-persaud-in-conversation/id927466223?mt=8


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

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

 

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

 

Check out the taser website for the metropolitan police: 

 

http://content.met.police.uk/Site/taser

 

FROM THE MET POLICE TASER WEBSITE:

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

 

 

 

 

 

ALSO FROM THE MET POLICE TASER WEBSITE:

Welcome to the Taser site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download it free from these links:

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

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dr-raj-persaud-in-conversation/id927466223?mt=8

 

 

THE ARTICLE BELOW MAY BE OF INTEREST - ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE HUFFINGTON POST

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/great-train-robbery-villians-as-heroes_b_3718501.html

 

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

RAJ PERSAUD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will end up being robbed.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Download it free from these links:

 

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

 

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dr-raj-persaud-in-conversation/id927466223?mt=8

 

Why the funniest comedians die first

 

Raj Persaud and Professor Adrian Furnham

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/comedian-early-deaths_b_6269176.html

 

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

 

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

The Psychology of Comedians

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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