Posted on: June 24, 2008 5:41 pm

Introduction to the Sanity Defense

Okay, here's another one of those posts that is written for people curious about a forensic psychology topic that often makes the news, but that people don't know all that much about.  In addition, I'd be happy to answer any questions about the topic, since many people find "not guilty by reason of insanity pretty interesting," and yet the people in the news (or in TV, movies, etc.) usually do a horrible job portraying the issue.

Generally speaking, in order to consider that an individual is guilty of committing a crime, there must be proof of two elements: 1) the individual engaged in unlawful conduct (actus reus); and 2) the individual did so with unlawful intent (mens rea). The degree, or amount, of intent is usually included in the description of the offense. For example, there are differing levels of intent necessary for the commission of involuntary manslaughter versus first degree murder.

The second prong noted above (mens rea) presumes that people act with free will (now, I know this is a debate that has raged forever, and will likely be never be settled, but from a legal standpoint this larger debate doesn’t matter). The law does recognize, however, that while most of us choose our own behavior, and are therefore responsible for it, some individuals are incapacitated due to mental illness to the extent that their free will is impaired.

Broadly speaking, the first type of mental illness that can be considered to potentially impair free will would be mental illnesses that impair cognitive functioning. This would be the sort of mental illness that impairs an individual’s ability to make rational, informed decisions based on a reasonable understanding of the world. For example, an individual with an IQ of 45 would almost certainly be considered cognitively impaired to the point where mens rea would not be assumed. That is, due to severe cognitive limitations, that individual would not be considered able to grasp the world in such a manner that unlawful intent would be ascribed to him or her. A non-mental health way of looking at this would be how we would address a crime committed by a five-year old. We simply don’t hold a five-year old to the same standards as an adult, because their capacity to understand the world and reality is significantly limited.

In another post, I’ll address the second aspect of a limitation on free will.  In addition, I will post an analysis of this issue with respect to Josef Fritzl, the Austrian guy who kept his daughter locked in his basement for 20 years...

Category: General
Tags: Psychology
Posted on: June 3, 2008 5:13 pm

The Scoop on Bachelors

This article reviews a forthcoming book by Carl Weisman entitled “So Why Have You Never Been Married?”   Weisman, age 49, surveyed over 1500 heterosexual men in order to determine why many had chosen to remain single. Contrary to popular opinion, it appears the main reason provided was not fear of marriage, but fear of bad marriage. Other insights are also offered in what appears to be a possibly interesting book.

Of course, this information is based on surveys, which requires a certain level of insight by the respondent in order to obtain accurate information. It is certainly possible at least some of the men surveyed are in either active or unconscious denial regarding their bachelorhood. Conversely, there is likely some merit to the idea that a generation of men who have grown up in families rife with divorce may be a bit gun shy about taking the plunge themselves. I’m not saying avoidance is the optimal method of dealing with negative childhood marital experiences, as modeled by parents (and parents of friends). However, if this group trends towards more rigid interpersonal experiences in general, when you combine having grown up with divorce, it likely explains at least a subgroup of this population. Also, while I really can’t offer an optimal age for marrying, being patient until one have found someone they are truly compatible with is certainly not a negative trait. Many horrific relationships occur when people feel a “need” to be with someone, anyone, rather than being alone. These individuals typically either get walked all over, or engage in jealous, controlling behaviors, because of issues revolving around what being single “says” about them.

As with most everything else, there is a happy medium. Rushing into relationship after relationship isn’t healthy. However, if someone is in their fifties, says they want to marry, and has dated numerous people, one has to explore the possibility of avoidance/perfectionism/other. One key element, of course, is the idea of “wanting to marry.” All this only applies to people who say they do want to marry at some point. If an individual has no desire for a marriage, kids, etc., then all this stuff really doesn’t apply.

Category: General
Tags: General
Posted on: April 26, 2008 6:04 pm

Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture

Talk about inspiring. This article from the NYT Health Section discusses the recent phenomenon that is Randy Pausch, a computer programming professor who is dying of pancreatic cancer. He gave a “last lecture” to a class at Carnegie Mellon University, in which he discussed his philosophy of life. He didn’t discuss his cancer - instead, he talked what he felt he had learned, and presented it in a way that he felt his children (now 6,4, and 2) would eventually be able to benefit from. Now, the lecture has been heard by 10 million people in seven different languages, and there are plans to make a book. The guy certainly appears to be confronting his illness with courage, as I would hope to be able to stand up to this with half as much strength as he is. According to the article, the lecture can be heard here:
Category: General
Tags: Inspiration
Posted on: April 16, 2008 10:33 am

Ethnic Clothing = Improved Mental Health?

According to this article:

some teen-agers do better later in life, in terms of mental health, depending on the type of ethnic clothing preferences they have.  I'm not going to go into much detail on the article, but I suppose I'd have been saner if I simply had dressed in the clothing of my "cultural heritage" when I was a teen-ager, something like this:

I could have been my high school's "Lord of the Dance," and felt better about myself too!!!

Category: General
Tags: Humor
Posted on: April 11, 2008 12:09 pm

Best Live Rock Performance You've Ever Seen???

Hey all,

With today's ticket prices for rock concerts out of control, as well as my diminishing interest in attending rock concerts as I get older (which, coincidentally coincides with my increasing interest in Jazz), I thought I'd reminisce about rock concerts of "yesteryear" (i.e. the old days for me, pre-children!).  Here are a couple of my favorites I attended back in the day:

1) U2 - Joshua Tree Tour - Best seats I've ever had: third row, Madison Square Garden.  I loved the band, that album, and their live performances.  The only negative was Bono's arm being in a sling from an accident during a previous show.  Highlights (for me) were "I Will Follow," "New Year's Day," and closing with "40."

2) Tom Petty - 1986(?) - Saratoga Springs  - had lawn seats, went mostly because a couple of friends were Petty fans.  Man, was he good live!  Loved "Runaway Trains," and the opening act, Georgia Satellites, were excellent live as well.

3) Monster of Rock - Meadowlands - 1991 - Went for Guns and Roses, but was blown away by Metallica.  Alcohol consumption partially impaired my ability to truly appreciate their performance (and I don't even remember Faith No More taking the stage), but Metallica simply owned the day - period.  Hey, at least Axl came out, which was generally a 50-50 proposition.

4) Kansas - The Power - 1988 - Most under-rated.  They got back together, promoted their new album, and played small venues.  Saw them at the Stanley Theater in Utica for like $10, went with 10 friends...and they were incredible.  Played all their old stuff really well, sounded polished, very fun.

5) Rush - 1994 (?) - Simply fantasic musicians

6) Tool - 1998 - Really good, nice visuals, and I saw them at Red Rocks ampitheater in Colorado.  Can't beat that venue...

There's plenty more, but those are some of my faves.  How about you?  What are some of the best shows you've seen?

Category: General
Tags: Music
Posted on: April 6, 2008 5:49 pm

Workout Songs for Your I-Pod Playlist

Hey all,

I recently added a few songs to my I-Pod, including a few I plan to add to the playlists I use to work out, listen to while running, etc.  Here are a couple of the new ones I added, in no particular order:

* Bohemian Like You - The Dandy Warhols

* Zombie - Miser

* Crush Crush Crush - Paramore

* The Missing Frame - AFI

* Are You Gonna Be My Girl - The Jets

I have a few faves from the "old days" (for me at least!) that include:

* Kickstart My Heart - Motley Crue

* Going the Distance - The "Rocky" Soundtrack

* Rock Me To the Top - Tesla

* Slip Slide Melting - For Love Not Lisa (Also on the soundtrack to "The Crow")

* Save Yourself - Stabbing Westward

* Plowed - Sponge

* Nobody Hears - Suicidal Tendencies

* One Vision - Queen (From "Iron Eagle")

* Lunatic Fringe - Red Rider (from "Vision Quest")

I've got a bunch of others, but I'd be interested to see what other people listen to when exercising, as I'm always open to suggestions!!!





Category: General
Tags: Music
Posted on: April 6, 2008 12:07 pm

Book Review - "Proust was a Neuroscientist"

Credit where due: I first heard about this book over at MindHacks, and their review (as well as short interview!) suggested this book would be an interesting read. However, I never wrote the title down (as I usually try to do with books I might be interested in reading), and it fell off my radar. However, I was perusing the books in the “New Non-Fiction” section of my library, and there it was! Now, after having read the first chapter, I consider myself very fortuitous.

Proust was a Neuroscientist is described as an examination of how artists working in various media (poets, novelists, painters, etc.) were able to discover an essential truth about the human mind that science has only recently been able to confirm. In a more general way, the book discusses how both art and science are paths to knowledge, and how reducing everything to data points can cost us valuable insights and information. It would also appear (though I have not read the whole book yet), that the author (Jonah Lehrer) endorses the idea that both Art and Science have something important to offer, and knowledge is best served when both are utilized. A somewhat similar idea was posited in the book The Dancing Wu-Li Masters, but with more of an emphasis on the idea that science (and in particular, Physics) has been moving away from a reductionist model, and now thrives on a more creative, artistic vision.

Thus far, I’ve only completed the first chapter, but I found it both well-written and engaging. The subject matter in question was Walt Whitman, and the physicality of emotions. The chapter lays out the history of scientific thought regarding the origin and location of feeling in the human body, and noted that during the time of Walt Whitman (the latter half of the 19th century), the general consensus was that the body was simply a vessel for the brain. The brain was the locale for all that made us human: thoughts, feelings, even the Soul. According to Lehrer, Whitman defied this thinking by writing poetry suggesting it is his body that encapsulates his emotions, his soul, his very being:

O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men

and women, nor the likes of the parts of you,

I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes

of the soul, (and that they are the soul,)

I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my

Poems, and that you are my poems.

- From “I Sing the Body Electric,” of “Enfans d’Adam,” also printed on pg. 10 of Proust was a Neuroscientist

The chapter goes on to discuss Whitman’s background, including the profound impact his medical work during the Civil War had on his perceptions of the body. There is a review of his association and friendship with Silas Weir Mitchell, a doctor during the Civil War who was the first physician to seriously examine the phenomenon of the “phantom limb” (a term used to describe an amputee’s sensation of “feeling” the limb that has been removed). The chapter also discusses the work of William James and his thinking about psychology (as well as his and Whitman’s shared love of the works of Emerson). Finally, there is a discussion about how modern neuroscience is confirming what Whitman wrote of long ago - feelings begin in the flesh.

The chapter specifically cites the work of the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, and his work regarding the process he has called “the body loop.” Basically, it works like this: We seeing something threatening, the brain triggers a wave of physical changes in order to respond, our body prepares for action, and then our cortex interprets these physical changes (by connecting them to the original stimulus). The science behind this is fascinating, but you’ll have to read the book for more.

The chapter makes some interesting points, including the idea that feelings are important, and should not be ignored for the sake of “rational thought.” I agree with this, to a point. As a therapist, I will always encourage my clients to pay attention to feelings, as they are, in fact, a source of information. However, I also point out that feelings, when too intense, tend to lead to poor choices. This may be due to a variety of reasons, which is beyond the scope of this post. However, I will tell my anger management clients, “This is Anger Management, not Anger Elimination. Anger is fine, anger can be important, and can be useful. It is what you do with it, when it is appropriate, that matters.” Don’t ignore it, but don’t indulge it - listen to it, and work with it.

What was nice about this chapter was both how much I learned about the cast of characters and the theories/ideas behind them, but also how much it prompted me to think about the subject at hand. I can’t ask for more from a book. As I read the other chapters, I may post (smaller) summaries or the main ideas. However, if the rest of the book was as good as this chapter, I say you should just go out and read it yourself.

BTW, if you are interested in psychology, check out my other web page at : http://postcards-from-the-id.typepa

Category: General
Tags: Books, Psychology
Posted on: April 4, 2008 6:48 pm

Movies and Mental Health - "Once Were Warriors"

One of the non-psychology topics I want to post about more frequently is movies. Of course, I would like to do more straight-up reviews of both good movies (as well as fun, if not-so-good ones, such as my other post on "Good-Bad Movies"), but I also want to make at least some of the movie talk relevant to the topic at hand - psychology. Therefore, I will make the occasional post about movies from a psychology perspective. This can mean different things at different times, depending on the movie. For example, I may post about a movie that portrays a psychological problem or intervention accurately and effectively; or, I may post because a movie may provide an individual who is experiencing a certain difficulty some ideas to consider. I may also post about a movie because it is motivating or illuminating in some way. This in no way is meant to replace an opinion about the movie’s effectiveness as a whole - in fact, if I think a movie stinks, I may not post about it from a psychology perspective, except perhaps to warn you!

So, I believe I will start with the 1994 New Zealand film "Once Were Warriors." This is a truly memorable film, well-acted and extremely effective at demonstrating how substance abuse and domestic violence can negatively impact a family in so many ways. This is a film often assigned to individuals in treatment for domestic violence and anger management classes to watch and discuss, due to its ability to demonstrate the ongoing impact of the violence (which perpetrators are often blind to). Of course, the impact of excessive alcohol use on aggression is also effectively demonstrated, and the movie does not offer any easy answers. At times this can be a difficult movie to sit through, and I also acknowledge that it takes a few minutes to adjust to the New Zealand accents, but I thought I would start with this film because it is relatively unknown, is very well-done, and the relationship of the movie to psychology is obvious. The film provides a number of excellent topics to discuss, whether in some form of a treatment format, or just with the person you watched it with. Do not, however, watch it if you are in the mood for a "feel good" movie - it ain’t that. Watch it when you are in a good position to be able to watch a movie that can be hard to watch, especially if you have a history of experiencing violence in your past.

Category: General
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