Raj Persaud in conversation - the podcasts
Does Meditation Work? The Scientific Evidence.

Latest research on whether meditation works with surprising findings


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

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

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

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

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





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


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


Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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




How To Spot Talent

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


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

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


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


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




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

Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham 



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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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



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


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




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

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

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

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

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

Windy Dryden

Professor of Psychotherapeutic Studies

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

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

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




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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal bio 

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


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




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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

Body Language in Business

Decoding the Signals

Raj Persaud in conversation with Prof Adrian Furnham

Body Language in Business

Decoding the Signals

Adrian FurnhamEvgeniya Petrova


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


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


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


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


First published in The Huffington Post 




Why do high heels make women more attractive?

Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham.


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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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




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




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


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



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



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

Mental Illness in the Movies

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



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



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


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


Danny Wedding's new book


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





Get the book from here:






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

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



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




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


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


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

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


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



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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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





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

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

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

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

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

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


Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


We become the very Demons and Angels we think exist.


We make them come true.






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

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

Are we all narcissists now?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Is there a national anxiety about this?


To purchase this fascinating book visit these sites:









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


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


Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen






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


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


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


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


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


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


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


But deep down do narcissists really believe this?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Yet how often do we do that?


Read more on the hidden psychology of the Academy Awards:







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

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


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

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

Should the mental health of pilots be of more concern? 

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

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






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




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

Dr Raj Persaud and Dr Peter Bruggen

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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







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

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


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

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

Is Psychiatry a Political Tool of the State?


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


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




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

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


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


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





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



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



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


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


Robert van Voren








After the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis in 

the spring of 2014, the former Soviet Union 

again became front-page news. The sequence 

of events led to an atmosphere reminiscent of 

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

for ‘national traitors’ and ‘foreign agents’ and 

observers both inside the country and abroad 

fear a return to Soviet-style repression. For the 

outside world this may come as a surprise, but 

human rights activists have been ringing the 

alarm bells for a few years. Ever since Vladimir 

Putin took power, the human rights situation 

has deteriorated. One of the warning signs was 

the return of the use of psychiatry for political 

purposes, to ‘prevent’ social or political activism 

or to ostracise an activist.






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

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


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

Direct download: DR-100_0064.mp3
Category:(2) General Podcasts -- posted at: 12:00pm UTC