Thursday, June 30, 2011

Stockholm Syndrome - in love with your abuser

Stockholm Syndrome is used to describe a psychological phenomenon when hostages express empathy and have positive feelings and attitudes towards the captors.

The name actually comes from a hostage incident in Stockholm, Sweeden. Four bank employees were held for six days by two ex-convicts who despite threatening their life, showed them kindness. Everybody was surprised when the victims were against the government’s efforts to rescue them. Two of the women got engaged with the captors. 
Other examples are the cases of Mary McElroy and Patty Hearst. Mary McElroy was kidnapped and when her captors were given harsh sentences, she defended them. Patty Hearst was also kidnapped and after two months in captivity she took part in a robbery with her kidnappers.

The Stockholm Syndrome can also be seen in romantic, interpersonal or family relationships. For example cases of an abusive husband or wife, parent.

Some of the symptoms are: positive feelings towards the abuser, negative feelings towards those who wish to rescue them, support of the abuser’s reasons and behaviors, helping the abuser, etc. 


It seems that the cause for Stockholm Syndrome is the fact that the captives begin to identify themselves with the captors. It starts as a defense mechanism and the small acts of kindness a captor does are magnified. Some experts say that the relationship between the victim and the abuser is modified in the eyes of the victim resembling a mother and her child. If the victim has absolutely no independence and its basic needs for survival are controlled, the perpetrator may start to seem more like a mother figure.

This syndrome is a great example of identification as a defense mechanism. The victims have an emotional attachment with their abusers and experience them as a part of themselves. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Nature vs. Nurture - The Case Of David Reimer

John William Money was a psychologist and a sexologist well known for the sex reassignment of David Reimer. When David Reimer’s (then named Bruce)  penis was destroyed by accident during his circumcision in 1966 , his parents brought him to John Money. They saw him in an interview and contacted him for help regarding the problem of their son. 

He advised the parents to change the sex of their child since penis reconstruction wasn’t a viable option back then. He was a supporter of the idea that gender was not necessarily predetermined in the womb but an influence of the environment and conditions experienced by the child. He thought that a baby’s gender is neutral in the first 2 years of life. So, at the age of 22 months Bruce Reimer suffered a surgery called orchidectomy  which would remove his testicles and the spermatic cord. He also started a hormone treatment and became Money’s guinea pig named Brenda. He comforted the parents telling them that this type of surgery was very common and was successful in the past. What Brenda’s parents didn’t know was the fact that this type of surgery was performed on intersex infants but never on normal infants.

Brenda’s childhood wasn’t great; whenever her mother tried to dress her with a dress she would tore it off. She also liked playing with her brother’s toys and was often bullied by her classmates in school. Despite these, Money made his case public and wrote: "The child's behavior is so clearly that of an active little girl and so different from the boyish ways of her twin brother”.

Brenda suffered terribly, no hormones were able to make her feel like a girl, for some time she urinated through a hole surgeons had placed in the abdomen. It was clear that she identified herself as male as she declared that when she grew up she would marry a woman, not a man. Besides a traumatizing childhood, her visits to Dr. Money were also highly traumatizing and tiring because she was supposed to visit him regularly. He would often show her and her brother pictures of people having sex and also forced them to take off their clothes and examine each other’s genitals (however these claims might not be true).

Brenda soon developed psychological problems. She had a nervous breakdown when she was only a small child and by the time she reached adolescence she already had suicidal depression. When told that she was in fact born a man, she took the name David and decided to become a male again. She undergone surgery to remove her breasts and also had penis reconstruction. David married in 1990 and became a defender of sexual liberation.
In 2004, David committed suicide; the events that lead to his suicide were harsh: his brother died by taking an overdose of antidepressants (he suffered from schizophrenia), he and his wife separated, and he had financial difficulties.

If you want to learn more about this case, there’s a very interesting documentary here. 

Whether Money made the wrong decision or not is not for me to decide. Perhaps he wanted to help the boy have a normal life or maybe he just wanted to have a guinea pig that would confirm his theory. This was indeed unethical but before we blame anyone, we should remember that it was a time when little was known about sexuality and gender. However, this decision ended up scarring a boy for life and hurting those around him. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

7 Myths About Alcohol

When it comes to drinking, everybody has some advice: a cure for a hangover, a method to get drunk faster or a method to get rid of that nasty feeling when you are too drunk. But are those really working? It seems that most of the things we know about drinking is wrong.  

A study involving 2000 Czech people (they are known for the fact that they consume a lot of beer) showed that this claim might be a myth. After questioning, their weight, body mass index and waist to hip ration were measured and it seems that there is no link between obesity and beer drinking. However, increasing your caloric intake and consuming large quantities of beer might influence your body weight but beer alone doesn’t contribute to “the beer belly”. 

A lot of people believe that alcohol can warm you, but if you ever find yourself trying in a situation when you have to survive in the cold, don’t drink alcohol. Although it makes you feel warmer, it actually decreases your body’s temperature and its reflex of keeping the body warm. Hypothermia will install more rapidly if you consume alcohol and you will not feel it either, so consuming alcohol in cold weather can put you to great risk.

How fast you get drunk depends on your metabolism and your weight, so mixing beer with wine will get you in the same direction as drinking the same amount alcohol contained by one beverage. 
However, people who mix their drinks may have a tendency to drink more so that might be a reasonable explanation for this myth.

It doesn’t, it only makes you numb and unable to feel your fatigue. Alcohol is a depressant so it reduces the function and activity of your body and brain. It might give you a mild euphoria and relaxation at first but if you continue drinking your mood will start to shift and you can become angry or sad. 

It doesn’t matter how many gallons of coffee you drink or how many times you wash your face, you will still be drunk. Only time will sober you up, so if you are really drunk the rational thing is to wait. Doing some exercise might help your body reduce the level of alcohol through sweat but that’s not really recommended when you are drunk. 

6 Sex is better when alcohol is involved
Unfortunately it doesn’t increase your libido but it makes you more promiscuous.  When your blood alcohol content reaches 0.10 you won’t feel anything during sex, but it will reduce inhibition.

The alcohol has the same effects on you even if you mix it with energy drink. You might not feel the effects of the alcohol but they are there and this is a very dangerous thing to do. You are practically using a depressant and a stimulant at the same time which could cause cardiopulmonary or cardiovascular failures and that’s not a fun moment during a party.

For an extensive list of alcohol effects on your body, check out this interesting link. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Misconceptions in Psychology and Psychiatry: Electro-convulsive therapy is inhumane

Thanks to a lot of movies, our image about electroconvulsive therapy is pretty biased. Everybody is probably imagining crying patients dragged by the psychiatric ward staff, tied to the bed, while being forced into ECT. It’s not that barbaric but many people believe that it produces a great deal of pain. In movies, even people who don’t show signs of severe depression are treated with ECT and it is often portrayed as a treatment for those with antisocial behavior.Another misconception about ECT is the fact that it is forced upon the patient; however, people sign consent forms to be treated with ECT. There is no abuse involved.
Many people believe it is administered like this:

But what is ECT ?

ECT is used for severe depression, bipolar disorder, or psychotic illnesses and 80% of  people who get this treatment show improvement. It is performed under anesthesia and the person has no memory of the time during the procedure. Its side effects are minimal, there is no evidence that it damages brain function, although memory may be mildly affected a few weeks after the treatment.

Perhaps the negative image it has comes from the fact that ECT was performed without anesthesia at first (in the 40s). It usually caused fractures because the result was a full scale convulsion. The fact that it was done frequently also made it harmful for patients. But nowadays, this treatment is safe, used only when other treatment options don't work and is rarely done involuntary (extreme cases when the patient is unable to give consent or their life is in danger).  

Here's a video of a girl suffering from paranoid schizophrenia talking about her ECT therapy:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

7 historical facts about plastic surgery

1 – Plastic surgery has been around for a long time.

If you think plastic surgery is a new field in medicine, you are very wrong. Rhinoplasty was first developed in ancient India by a surgeon named Shushruta. 
His surgery is described with great detail in his treatise Shushruta Samhita. (you can find it here ) He developed techniques for reconstructing noses, genitalia, earlobes for people who were amputated as religious, criminal or military punishment.

Another great contributor to medicine was Aulus Cornelius Celsus, who wasn’t a doctor himself but an encyclopedist. Various plastic surgeries such as reconstruction of the lips, ears, and nose were published in his tome De Medicina.  (you can find it here )
Some historians believe that De Medicina’s contents came from the writings of the school of Hippocrates.   The book contains methods of treating fractures and dislocation, dental surgery, etc. He was also an advocate of dissection, but that was prohibited in Greek and Roman religions.
Scar removal was also popular in Rome, especially for the slaves who wanted to get rid of the signs that showed their enslavement.  

2 – The first “boob job” was in 1895

Vincenz Czerny was an Austrian German surgeon. He used the adipose tissue from an lipoma to repair a patient’s asymmetry after tumor removal. He had many contributions in oncological and gynecological surgery and is called the "father of cosmetic breast surgery".  

3 – Silicone was not always popular

Some of the materials used for breast implants will sound weird, but all failed interventions lead to great development in this field. There were experiments with paraffin injections, but despite it’s popularity, it had disastrous results like fistulas, granulomas and even tissue necrosis. Other disturbing materials and substances used for breast implants were ivory, glass balls, ground rubber, ox cartilage, polyethylene chips, silastic rubber, etc. Some of the other substances used after the Second World War were: petroleum jelly, beeswak, epoxy resin, etc. The results were terrible: women lost their breasts and some even lost their life. 
Fortunately, breast enhancement techniques have minimal risks nowadays.

4 – In the Middle Ages some plastic surgeries were performed in barber shops

Barbers were very useful in the Middle Ages, especially because surgery was seen as pagan and it was wrong to alter the human body. However, costumers were able to come in barber shops for amputations, settle broken bones, cosmetic dentistry, etc. They were very useful during wars as there were not many physicians available. 

5- Botox was used (and still is) for therapeutic purposes

At first, the botulinum toxin was not used for cosmetic purposes; actually, it turned out to be very effective in “uncontrollable blinking” (blepharospasm) and strabismus. Then, new medical procedures used botulinum toxin to treat excess sweating, muscle spasms, cervical dystonia and chronic migraine. It started being used as a cosmetic enhancer after two ophtalmologists published a study after noticing their patients had an improvement in glabellar lines (the lines between the eyebrows). 

6- Blepharoplasty was done 3000 years ago  

Blepharoplasty is the surgical modification of the eyelid. Although the term was coined in 19 century, this practice was used throughout Egypt and Rome. There are papyruses that give detailed explications on reconstruction surgery. Also, Aulus Cornelius Celsus describes how to make an incision in the skin to relax the eyelids.

7 – The first advanced skin graft procedure was in 1917  

 The first advanced skin graft taken from an unwounded part of the body was performed by Sir Harold Gillies in 1917 on Walter Yeo, a british solider. He lost his upper and lower lids in war. You can find photograph before and after the procedure here. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Autism - A Short Overview

Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. It was first introduced by E. Bleuler in 1911, in his work Dementia praecox oder die Gruppe der Schizofrenie to characterize young adult schizophrenics. In his paper, the patients lost contact with reality by having great difficulties to communicate with other people. However, nowadays the term is characterized by the autistic spectrum, which is different from infantile schizophrenia. Autism was described by Kanner as the inability of a child to establish contact with the environment. There are a few clinical signs specific to autism: extreme isolation, stereotypical gestures, communication problems (the child cannot communicate at all or has a poor vocabulary), echolalia (stereotypical repetition of words), poor eye contact, loss of previously acquired language, etc. 

The autism spectrum contains five forms of disorders:

Classic Autism
Causes: genetic, certain prenatal risk factors, prenatal viral infection, teratogens that cause birth defects, etc. 
Symptoms: problems in communication (verbal and nonverbal), repetitive behaviors, inability for social interaction, etc. These can be observed by 18 months of age. 

Rett Syndrome
Causes: mutation in the methyl CpG binding protein 2, or MECP2 gene; but not everyone who has an MECP2 mutation has this syndrome. Other cases may be caused by partial gene deletions, mutations in other parts of genes, or additional genes that have not been yet identified.
Affects females more commonly than males (almost exclusively). It is characterized by: loss of purposeful use of hands, distinctive hand movements, slowed head growth, seizures, and intellectual disability.
There are four stages of Rett Syndrome:  
Stage 1 – symptoms may be vague: less eye contact, reduced interest in toys, decreased head growth, etc. The stage can last for a few months to a year.
Stage 2 – begins between ages 1 and 4 and is pretty rapid. It is characterized by: loss of social interaction and communication, unsteady walking, stereotypical hand movements, noticeable slow head growth, etc.
Stage 3 – begins between ages 2 and 10 and it’s characterized by: apraxia, motor problems, seizures, etc. However, the children can show improvement in communication and social interaction.
Stage 4 – can last for years and decades and it’s characterized by: reduced mobility, scoliosis, muscle weakness, rigidity, spasticity, abnormal posturing, walking problems for those who were able to walk in early stages, etc.
Treatment: there is no treatment for Rett syndrome, only symptomatic treatment focused on breathing irregularities, motor difficulties and anticonvulsant drugs for seizures.
Prognostic: although there are cases of people in their 40’s and 50’s with the disorder, there aren’t many studies that show life expectancy beyond age 40.

Atypical Autism (PDD-NOS) – the patient has a few symptoms of autism. It is characterized by impairment of language development, social behavior and creative and imaginative skills. There are no general symptoms for atypical autism as not all patients share the same symptoms. Some will socialize partially, others will have problems understanding what is communicated to them, etc.

People might consider atypical autism as a milder form of autism but this is not always the case. Some patients diagnosed with atypical autism can have more severe characteristics. 
Treatment: there is no treatment and medication is used for symptoms like behavioral problems. Early therapy with children can play a critical role in the child’s development.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (Disintegrative psychosis, Heller syndrome) is a rare condition characterized by dramatic loss of previously acquired skills in: language, social skills, motor skill, bowel or bladder control, etc. 
Most children with this condition will have similar symptoms with severe autism by the age of 10.

Treatment can include: medication and behavioral therapy. However, the outlook is poor.

Asperger Syndrome – unlike children with autism, children with Asperger Syndrome will retain their acquired language skills.
Symptoms: obsessive interest in a single object or topic, repetitive routines and rituals, social and emotional inappropriate behavior, inability to interact successfully with peers, non-verbal communication problems, uncoordinated motor movements, lack of “common sense”, reading problems, etc. 
Treatment: medication combined with therapy can be effective.
The outlook is good – people can function in society although they will find some difficulties. Children may require special education because of behavioral and social problems. Social support is very important, but this also applies to the other disorders from the autistic spectrum

Many parents believe that there is a causal relationship between vaccinations and autism, but there is no evidence for that in the scientific community. Some even avoid or delay vaccinations risking their child’s death or other disabilities.

Taking care of an autistic child

Autistic children are generally taken care of in special institution. In these institutions there is a multidisciplinary approach: special programs in which the children will be helped to recognize themselves and others as individuals, an adapted educational activity, psychomotor development and language acquisition programs, psychotherapy, etc. The parents can also receive psychological help, as coping with an autistic child can be difficult. Although medical science is improved every day, some autistic children cannot be helped much when severe autism develops. Also, social support is a key element in working with some of the difficulties related to social behavior and communication.  

Even small tasks can be difficult to learn for those with autism and even if they make great improvements, they might be considered socially awkward and have problems later in life because of that. Parents can often become frustrated but they should remember that patience and love can make wonders for their child. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Objectophilia - in love with objects

Objectophilia (object sexuality or objectum sexuality) can be defined as an emotional and romantic desire towards different objects. Those with objectophilia can feel attraction, love, and can even commit to the objects that become their partners. Some of these individuals believe in animism and consider that non-human entities are spiritual beings. 
They don’t describe themselves as fetishists because they don’t use the objects to enhance their sexual pleasure, the objects are the only thing they desire and they fall in love with them.

You probably heard of the woman who married the Eiffel Tower . It seems that her love for objects began with Lance, a bow; then she moved on to a piece of fence which is currently her partner. However, she always loved the Eiffel Tower and she changed her name to show the whole world how much she loves it. Then, there’s the woman who married the Berlin Wall. She is now 54 years old and she married the wall in 1979. It seems that her love for the wall began when she first saw it on TV, then she just started collecting pictures with her future “husband”. But she hasn’t visited her husband since part of it was destroyed in 1989. Nowadays, she is in a loving relationship with a garden fence.

Another woman, in love with the Twin Towers, declares that "when it comes to love, I am only attracted to objects. I couldn't imagine a love affair with a human being".  Fortunately for her she has a model of the Twin Towers. They are made from anodized aluminium and the advantage is that they don’t rust when she takes a bath with them. The same article tells the story of Joachim A. who was in a relationship with a Hammond organ, but now “he has now been in a steady relationship with a steam locomotive for several years. He admits that he has been unfaithful over the years because "a love affair could very well begin with a broken radiator”.

An article in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, written by Amy Marsh argues that objectophilia is not a paraphilia but a sexual orientation. Here’s the paragraph:

Based on statements made by objectum sexuals and on the research discussed in this article, it appears that objectum sexuality can be distinguished from a simple paraphilia by its complex array of emotional and affectionate qualities, in addition to its sexual characteristics. The most striking feature of this research was the discovery of the array of emotions and depth of connection that OS people feel for their objects. Judging from the thoughts expressed in open-ended responses, OS appears to be a genuine - though rare - sexual orientation. The emotions and experiences reported by OS people correspond to general definitions of sexual orientation. For example, an article on sexual orientation and homosexuality, published on American Psychological Association Help Center website, refers to sexual orientation as involving “feelings and self concept.” If references to human lovers were stripped from this particular article, it would dovetail with the experiences and feelings described by OS people.

For further reading and stories you can go on

Is objectophilia a paraphilia, a disorder, a sickness? People who claim to have it also say that they couldn't fall in love with a human being because they don't feel attracted to them. On the other hand, attraction is not the only thing that defines love and when it comes to other needs like communicating and emotional support it can be really hard to obtain those from an object. Or maybe these people have found a new meaning to unrequited and unconditional love. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Polyamory - healthy relationship or deviance?

Polyamory is defined as the “the nonpossessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously”. In other words, having more than one relationships at the same time with the consent of all people involved.

We grow up to believe that a monogamous relationship is the right thing to do. Society tells us that there’s no choice when it comes to having a relationship, one must always be faithful to their only partner. But polyamory seems to work fine for those involved even if society blames it. There are some religions that practice polygamy such as Mormon fundamentalism, Christian Plural Marriage, Islamic, etc. However, in western cultures nobody has the legal right to marry more than one person and the traditional family concept is still encouraged.     

There are different types of polyamory:

-         Polyfidelity – all members of the group are equal partners and are only sexually active with the other members of the group.
-         Polyamory with sub relations – there’s a primary partner which comes before the secondary and tertiary partners.
-         Relationship between one couple and another couple
-         Polygamy
-         Group relationships or group marriage

Fidelity and loyalty is seen in polyamorous relationship not as having one sexual partner but more like keeping the promises, committing to the relationship, and being completely honest. Communication plays an important part in this type of relationship and those which are part of a relationship try to work together even if they often make mistakes.
Gender equality is another important part of polyamory as there are no gender rules when choosing those who will be part of a group, except those involving personal needs.

I found a great article in which the view of therapists on this lifestyle is discussed. It seems that it’s difficult for psychologists to understand that polyamory is a personal preference and not something caused by different problems or fears. In the study presented in the article, therapists were asked to imagine the psychological profile of a polyamorous person. They found that:

24% of these therapists imagined that polyamorous individuals feared commitment or intimacy, 15% of these therapists imagined that they were in marriages that were not fulfilling, and 7% hypothesized that they might have identity problems

Another study presented in the paper the results were similar:

Knapp (1975) found that 33% of her sample of therapists believed that people who pursued a polyamorous lifestyle had personality disorders and neurotic tendencies, and 20% suggested that such people might have antisocial personalities. 9-17% of the therapists stated they would use their professional skills to try to influence clients to abandon sexually open marriages

So, is polyamory a way to obtain a healthy relationship? If it is, we need to stop thinking that only people who have certain problems will accept such a lifestyle and psychologists need to think beyond the classic views and embrace a new way of love. On the other hand, if people's desire to be in a polyamorous relationship indeed comes from a problem (fear of commitment, personality disorder, etc.), should they be influenced to have a monogamous relationship even if their polyamorous relationship is fulfilling their needs? 

PS: Thanks for the 7 Facts blog award. :)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

6 Reasons Why Your Memory Is Not That Great

If you thought human memory is amazing, you were wrong. There are some memory biases that interfere with our ability to store, retain, and recall information. Here are 6 reasons why your memory is not as good as you thought.

1 Cryptomnesia- this is a very interesting thing that happens with our memory: forgotten memory returns without being recognized by the subject. The subject then believes that they came up with something new and original. So, it’s like a hidden memory. Authors like Helen Keller, Byeron, and even Nietzsche were victims of cryptomnesia. They all wrote parts or even full stories (like Keller) that resembled something that was already written by someone else. Cryptomnesia  is also responsible for those so called past life experiences and even for some of the stories mediums tell people about the spirits they come in contact with. 

2 Déjà vu  – while some people believe that déjà vu is a premonition or a prophecy or even a past life experience, it’s only a way your memory plays with you. Déjà vu is just a recollection of a fragment from one’s past, remembering some pictures you’ve seen or maybe it’s just the feeling of knowing without actually knowing anything. It’s not a glitch in the Matrix either.

3 Cross–race effect – I’ve heard many Caucasian people state that all Asian people look the same; well, according to the cross-race effect, every race believes that people from other races look the same and they have difficulty recognizing and processing faces (and even emotions). Apparently, individual differences and prejudice contribute to biased judgments and suspect misidentifications. 

4 Misinformation effect – our memory can be greatly influenced when we are misinformed. When doing a study on the misinformation effect, participants were divided into two groups, one group was misinformed and the other was not to be altered in any way. Then, they had to see a video of a complex event. After seeing the event, one group was misled by false information. When asked about what happened, the group that received false information adopted that information as their memory. Let me give you an example of another study.  Subjects were asked to see a car crash movie and after that they had to remember how fast the cars were going when they hit each other. The word “hit” was replaced by different words such as: smashed, collided, bumped or contacted. When the word “smashed” was used, people tended to “remember” a higher speed but when the word contacted was used, they tended to “remember” a lower speed. They were also asked a week later if there was broken glass on the pavement and most of those who were given the word “smashed” a week before, said “yes” although there was no broken glass. It seems that people’s tendency to conformity can also be applied when it comes to memory. This “social contagion of memory” was proved in a study where a subject was misled by the other person that witnessed the same scenes. When recalling again what they saw, the subjects remembered (to be true) many of the erroneous items their partner suggested before.

5 Rosy Retrospection – we tend to remember things to be more positive than they really were. This study showed that people evaluated their vacation to be more positive than it was evaluated during the event itself. “The "rosy view" phenomenon is associated with an increase in the number of negative thoughts during the event which seem to be caused by distractions, disappointment, and a less positive view of the self. However, these effects are short-lived; within days after the event, people have much more positive evaluations of the event. “

6 Positivity Effect – the positivity effect happens when we attribute situational circumstances to bad behaviour of people we like. On the other hand, we tend to attribute misbehavior to people we don’t like. What does this have to do with memory? It seems that older adults “are more likely than younger adults to pay attention to positive than negative stimuli”. In addition, compared with younger adults' memories, older adults' memories are more likely to consist of positive than negative information and more likely to be distorted in a positive direction. 

Don't be sad, here are some ways to improve your memory. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

7 Psychology Related Myths You Hear Every Day

There are some general statements about psychology and people that everybody uses. Unfortunately, most of the general “knowledge” is untrue. Here are 7 of the most popular myths you probably still believe to be true or at least people around you use as arguments against you. You should stop believing that general knowledge is true without having any proof.

1 We use 10% (2%, 1%, 5%) of our brain

The sad part is that I heard this one in school. Unfortunately, many people still believe that we use only a small part of our brain and they shouldn’t be blamed, I’ve heard it so many times in movies, I’ve read about it in different articles and books; it seems that people really want it to be true. I guess people love to believe that if they can access the rest of their brain they will have superpowers. I’m sorry folks, we use our whole brain and if you are not Einstein you can blame your genes or your lack of interest in Physics during high school. 

2 The abused become abusers

Many people believe that if a person was abused during childhood they will probably abuse their children too. This is an unfounded statement and actually a study on 244 people shows that only “26 of the 224 former victims (12%) had subsequently committed sexual offences-in almost all cases with children-mainly outside their families”. It also seems that about 20-44% of those who were abused, had no symptoms or mental health problems. So, think again before pointing the finger next time.

3 Criminal profilers are helpful when searching for a criminal

If movies have taught us anything, it is the fact that the beautiful and mysterious criminal profiler helps the police catch criminals with her great wit and knowledge. Apparently they are useless and what they do it’s more like cold reading. Let me give you an example: the murderer is a Caucasian male, unmarried, no kids, lonely, etc. I’m no profiler, but I just described most of the murderers. A study showed that “profilers do not decisively outperform other groups when predicting the characteristics of an unknown criminal”.

4 People with mental problems are violent and they will kill you

Most people will tell you that those with mental problems will < insert extreme violent behavior here > you.
But violence induced by mental disorders is pretty rare (this doesn’t apply to those who take M&Ms as treatment or mentally ill people who drink alcohol). Of course, I’m not saying that there is no violence related to mental problems but having the preconceived idea that every person with a mental illness is violent can be very wrong and offensive. People with a history of drug abuse and alcohol are indeed violent and actually being recently divorced or unemployed makes you more likely to be violent than having a mental illness.

5 You are safer in a crowded environment

If you know what diffusion of responsibility is, you know this is untrue. The bystander effect tells us that the chance of you being helped in an emergency situation is inversely proportional with the number of people in that area.
Just watch these clips about people who passed by the victims without helping them:

6 Opposites attract

The ugly girl and the hot popular guy fall in love (and vice versa) may be popular in movies but not in real life. Actually people seek partners with similar qualities. It seems that having a partner with a similar personality is a big plus for a relationship, while being with somebody completely different might lead to ending your relationship prematurely. However, it seems that this saying is true when it comes to money . A study showed that the more dissatisfied they were, the more likely each participant was to be attracted to individuals with opposing spending views. Stop complaining that your partner is a big spender, you want them to be like that.

7 Positive thinking helps

I’m sorry to tell you but positive thinking doesn’t cure cancer, doesn’t help your self esteem or your happiness. I’m not promoting pessimism or something, but sometimes it is better to stop believing that you can do the impossible. If you know somebody who has low self esteem, don’t tell them to think positive, it will make them feel even worse. Perhaps concentrating on having success in some tasks will probably enhance your self esteem but repeating “I am the best” like a robot might make you even more depressed. Maybe accepting who you are and what you are is the best solution here. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

6 reasons why you fail as a rational being

There is no sin except stupidity
Oscar Wilde

You probably think you made pretty good decisions in your life, based on critical thinking and logic. You also know that you are smarter than the average person and your reasoning skills are very good. You probably failed, but don’t worry, we all fail – it’s in our brain.  

1 Optimism bias – this is a systematic tendency for people to be optimistic about their outcome. If you are a smoker, your probably think that smoke related diseases don’t apply to you (but they do). According to these studies, people have an unrealistic optimism about their live. In this study, college students rated their own chances to be above average from positive events and below average for negative events. Dalziel and Job (1997) found that professional drivers, such as metropolitan taxi drivers from Sydney,
underestimate their risk of automobile accident. Hoch found that MBA students actually overestimate the number of job offers they will receive and their salary. 
Next time you think you drive much better than a professional driver and your running like crazy or there’s no way something can happen to you (sounds familiar?), think about optimism bias. While we’re on the subject we should also talk about wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is a common error people make when they expect and make decisions based on what they want to happen. This is also a logical fallacy in the form of: I wish X is true, therefore X is true. It can also be linked to the logical fallacy called argument from ignorance where a person will state that if x hasn’t been proved to be false, then it must be true.

Rosy retrospection – remember your first boyfriend/girlfriend? Ah, such great times you had together, you don’t even know why you guys split up in the first place. Stop that, that’s rosy retrospection, when you rate past events more positively than you actually rated them when they happened.  Now think about all those decisions you made that involved this cognitive bias.

Illusion of control – people like to believe that they have the ability to control events and outcomes even when they are demonstrated that they cannot influence them. For example, when rolling the dice people throw harder for a higher number and softer for a lower number although they know that couldn’t influence their chances. Those of you with a passion for critical thinking and logical argumentation probably know about the Gambler’s fallacy. The gambler thinks that because they lost many times, their chances of winning increase. For example if we toss a coin 4 times and it shows heads all those times, one would think that the chances of it showing heads the 5th time decreased; however, the chance is always 50%. If a lot of bad things happened to you in a long time it is false to assume that something good must happen because your chances of something bad happening haven’t decreased at all.

4 Illusory superiority and Dunning Kruger effect  – is another cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their positive traits and underestimate their negative ones. In the Dunning – Kruger effect, unskilled people make poor decisions and make erroneous conclusions while their incompetence keeps them from appreciating their mistakes. This can also happen in reverse for competent people as they might believe that other people have an equivalent understanding. Also, the highly skilled might underestimate their abilities. So it seems that the unskilled and stupid are arrogant about their knowledge while those who actually know what they are talking about are doubtful. Also, according to the Pollyanna principle (yes, it’s that annoying positive girl from the children’s books) people tend to agree with positive statements about themselves. As you can see, we are seriously deluded.

Self-serving bias – You have to be honest, we all have this (I have poor grades because the teacher hates me). The self-serving bias is when people attribute success to themselves and failure to events or circumstances. Also, it seems to work even with ambiguous information which is used by people in their favor, although that information is not necessary related to them. But hey, it sounds great and you will delude yourself fantastically with it. While we’re on the subject, I will also mention the fundamental attribution error,  when a person judges the behaviour of others but when they find themselves in the same situation, they take situational factors into consideration.

Bias blind spot – after reading this article you are probably thinking “Hmm, I don’t have those, I’m a logical person” while thinking about situations when you acted all rational and logical. That’s called bias blind spot and you see yourself better than average and less likely to have the biases described to you. Well, the good thing is that we will always deny our stupidity.

Monday, June 13, 2011

5 Weird Fetishes (Part II)

This is part II of my recent article Weird Fetishes I and because people gain pleasure from a lot of weird stuff, I guess it’s going to be an entire series of articles. I was very busy lately so my articles were quite short, but I guess the 5 people who actually read my blog don't mind :).  Anyway, our first paraphilia is…

This looks like a Sex Shop for a hierophiliac.
1. Hierophilia or theophilia involves sexual attraction to religious and sacred objects: fantasies, urges to use religious objects and sexual preference for sacred or religious objects. So, if you ever had fantasies with a cross or other religious objects, you probably have hierophilia. 

Man, look at those sexy branches!
2. Dendrophilia  – while tree huggers are just romantic people who like to bond with trees and enjoy nature, a dendrophiliac just likes having sex with trees. Yep, they get aroused by tall, big, beautiful…trees.

Yep, a frotteurist playground.
3. Frotteurism refers to the act of rubbing yourself against someone without their consent (and enjoying it too). Most of us who use public transport know what that means, a creepy guy rubbing himself against us and smirking during the process.

Back off buddy! This is my boob!
4. Erotic lactation is not that hard to figure out as it is the arousal one gets from being breastfed. If you are fighting with your newborn child for your wife’s milk, you are a lactophiliac.

This was invented by a piquerist. 
5. Piquerism is a “subfetish” of sadomasochism in which a person finds sexual pleasure from penetrating another person with sharp objects. Stabbing and cutting in areas like breasts, buttocks or groin are the most frequent “bedroom activities” when it comes to this fetish. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

4 Weird Fetishes (Part I)

Weird Sexual Fetishes

If you thought your foot fetish was weird, it’s not. A person’s mind is a dark place and some of the things we enjoy can be really creepy; but here’s a list with some of the weird sexual fetishes I found.

She's getting ready for a date.
1. Apotemnophilia – when we look at ourselves in the mirror, most of us want to lose or gain some weight, get a new haircut, etc. But not people suffering from apotemnophilia. Nope, these guys want to lose a limb. This is a strange neurological disorder in which rational people have a great desire to amputate their own limbs and many of them manage to do it with the help of surgeons or simply hurting themselves and force emergency amputation. Why is apotemnophilia a fetish? Because there’s an erotic desire of looking like an amputee. The causes seem to be linked to abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex. These guys get along great with acrotomophiliacs, those who have a sexual desire for people with amputations. 

Just some domestic fun...

2. Autassassinophilia – some of us like it when our partner talks dirty, some like it when there’s a little roughness involved, but not those who have autassassinophilia, they like to get killed or at least be in life threatening situations. If your wife has this, you might have to hunt her down and pretend to kill her with a chainsaw just to get her attention. 

This scene of Little Red Riding Hood is definitely
 porn vore lovers. Nom, nom, nom!

3. Vorarephilia – if you ever had a strong urge to be eaten alive (with or without digestion), this is your fetish. But there’s more! There’s soft vore, for those who are more romantic, which only involves being alive and as a whole. However, hard vore describes scenarios where the person or animal is being chewed and ripped. Of course, there’s more! Vaginal vore is a scenario where a woman “performs?!” unbirth, which is the reverse of birthing. The partner is consumed by the vagina and ends up in the woman’s womb; of course, if you think about it this is a very hard fetish to put in practice and all these people have is stories, pictures and cartoons that may depict this fetish. Oh, and there’s also penis vore, anal vore and breast vore but I’ll let you figure out what those mean. 

I bet it takes a while until you warm her up.

4. Agalmatophilia – this a paraphilia that concerns attraction to a statue, doll, mannequin or other similar figurative object (according to Wikipedia). Actually I don’t blame these people, some of those Greek and Roman statues are really hot. There are a few cases of people who, uhm, raped statues.  Actually there’s also a case of a man, who fell deeply in love with a Venus of Milo statue and was discovered having sex with it. Women devoted themselves to the god Priapus and virgins were penetrated by his statue and actually many statues had been “mutilated” by having their penises cut off because they were used as dildos (don’t you just love history?) by women. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Postcoital Dysphoria - When sex brings you down

Postcoital dysphoria can be defined as sadness after having sex. While most people are happy after they had sex with someone, those who have postcoital dysphoria can become quite depressed. Actually you can experience irritability, extreme sadness, melancholy, anxiety, and even shame or guilt. It seems that 32.9 percent of women had this issue at one point in their life and 10 percent of those declared that they have been struggling with the issue many times or most of the time in their life.  However, when a person had postcoytal dysphoria all their life it could be a sign of childhood abuse or a personality disorder.

It seems that this problem is common in both sexes (while in some sources it is stated that it can be more common in men than in women) and it may occur more when engaging in adulterous sex or sexual intercourse with a prostitute. Other factors may be: hormonal shift after sex, unresolved issues with the partner, stress, general anxiety, or depression. Even the fear of getting a sexual transmitted disease could contribute to postcoital dysphoria.  
If you experience postcoital dysphoria you should discuss your feelings with your partner; if you don't have a partner or you have multiple partners, you should at least talk with a psychologist and see how, when and why your postcoital dysphoria issue started.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Retired Husband Syndrome - A woman's full time job

Retired husband syndrome is a psychosomatic stress related illness that occurs in Japan.  This illness seems to affect women of ages 50 to 65 as soon as their husbands reach retirement. It is also one of the causes for divorce in Japan among older couples.

With a husband that is mostly busy at work, the Japanese woman has a lot of time on her hands and becomes dependent on certain activities. He might start complaining about different things but the wife will tolerate such behavior as she knows his presence at home is short. However, when husbands retire, their whole personality is revealed and they can become too irritating for their wives, who are used to spending their free time away from them. Also, a lot of Japanese husbands help little around the house and having one who stays at home all the time means more cleaning.
A woman declares that her husband takes over her domicile and wants to cook or direct the way she cooks; he either leaves a lot of dishes or he fries everything too much.
The cracking of eggs is something else. Crushing them with his hands (as presumably he has seen some chef do it) always results in picking out egg shell from the food while we attempt to eat it, or throwing the whole dammed thing away.

Women begin to show a pattern of symptoms and this led Dr. Nobuo Kirokawa to identify and coin the term retired husband syndrome. The symptoms are: depression, skin rash, asthma, ulcers, and high blood pressure.

We should understand that Japanese society demands that the husband does well in his career so he spends little time with his wife and kids. They will also have a hard time interacting after he is retired because they are not used with that level of social intimacy. Men socialize with the work colleagues and women with their friends, so their activities together are very few.

It seems that almost 60% of the wives of retired men suffer from retired husband syndrome. There are also support groups that help Japanese men to be independent, stop demanding so much from their wives and communicate with them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pareidolia and Apophenia - Finding useless meaning

Apophenia is characterized by finding meaning and seeing patterns when presented with random and meaningless data. Aphopenia is considered a Type 1 error in statistics, when we consider that an effect has statistic significance but occurred due to random events.  
Although apophenia is linked to psychosis, a lot of people can show such behavior and actually a lot of conspiracy theories are based on it.

Pareidolia is a type of apophenia which refers to people’s perception of significant information where vague or random stimuli exist.
It seems that pareidolia influences animals too; in this interesting article we are presented with five cases of animal pareidolia. I will cite a few here:

Aphantochilus rogersi is an ant-mimicking spider that preys
exclusively on cephalotine ants.

Just as frogs are prone to see moving dots on a screen as flies, and sea urchins will
avoid any dark shadow as if it were an enemy fish, humans too tend to interpret their
environment  with the  "models  generated  by their most  pressing interests.

Face  perception  is  a  skill  crucial  to  primates…. …Almost  all  (97%)  of  the  visually responsive  neurons  in  this  region  were  strongly  face  selective,  indicating  that  a dedicated  cortical area exists to  support face processing in the macaque.

Anthropomorphism is similar to pareidolia and it refers to people’s tendency to apply human characteristics or attributes to non-human objects or creatures, beings, or phenomena. (more about anthropomorphism an pareidolia here )

Pareidolia can explain the perception of religious figures that appear on different items.
A well known case of pareidolia is the man or the faces people perceived to be on the surface of the moon. There are a lot of references throughout history regarding these perceptions: Plutarch’s treatise Of the Face appearing in the roundel of the Moone, old ballads or traditional nursery rhymes. For more images appearing on the moon you can check out this website

Carl Sagan stated:  
 As soon as the infant can see, it recognizes faces, and we now know that this skill is hardwired in our brains. Those infants who a million years ago were unable to recognize a face smiled back less, were less likely to win the hearts of their parents, and less likely to prosper. These days, nearly every infant is quick to identify a human face, and to respond with a goony grin.

Auditory Pareidolia

A type of pareidolia is auditory pareidolia that can be seen in EVP (electronic voice phenomenon); EVP is an electronic generated noise that resembles voices and many people believe these are actual ghost or other entities that are sending them a message.  

Another case of auditory pareidolia was the massive hysteria about some metal bands songs which had satanic or suicide messages when heard backwards.

Pareidolia in projective tests

Tests such as Holtzman Inkblot Test or Rorschach test use people’s pareidolia ability to understand more about their mental state. Rorschach test consists in showing ambiguous inkblot images to a subject to interpret them. People can see animals, humans, sexual scenes or sexual organs. However, the validity of Rorschach test is much debated.

Here’s a very interesting article about pareidolia.

So, next time you think it’s a sign that you and your boyfriend met on the same day you saw a rainbow in the sky, think again. Also, if you see Jesus in your pile of toenail clippings, you are not receiving any religious message from a superior being.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cotard's Syndrome - The Walking Corpse


Cotard’s Syndrome or Cotard Delusion is a condition in which the patient has an extreme delusion of negation. This is an extremely rare neuropsychiatric disorder and people suffering from this believe that they are dead, they’ve lost their internal organs or they are immortal.
People with Cotard’s syndrome  have possession ideas or believe that other people’s identity is false. The syndrome is named after the famous neurologist, Jules Cotard who described it as the “délire des négations”. 


The causes of this syndrome could be: major depression with psychotic features, schizophrenia or organic mental conditions. In young people, Cotard syndrome might be associated with bipolar disorder. 


In the first phase the individual might only feel despair and self loathing but as the illness progresses they will deny their own existence, believe that they are in hell or heaven, or simply believe that others died. Their delusions can be linked to their life: some, who had an accident before the symptoms, may believe that they died in the accident while others, might believe their organs are affected or they simply disappeared (for example, a woman who cannot have children might believe that her uterus disappeared).

Case Studies

Since it is such a rare syndrome there are few case reports, but I managed to find a few to make a clearer image on this syndrome.

Cotard’s Syndrome after motorcycle accident

A well known (and it can be found on Wikipedia) case study is the one that describes a patient who suffered brain injury after an accident. He is taken by his mother in South Africa where he believes that he has died of septicemia (he reads a story about a person with AIDS who died of septicemia) or an overdose of a yellow fever injection and went to hell. His explication for his mother’s presence is the fact that he had “borrowed my mother's spirit to show me round hell".

A 44-a year old man became homeless because he couldn’t find a job. He developed depression in jail and because he was unable to pay for psychiatric services the symptoms worsened in six weeks.
While the mild phase of his illness was characterized by poor sleep, loss of appetite, and anergia, when things got worse he felt like he “melted away” and he was dead. He was then diagnosed with schizophrenia and treated with oral and depot haloperidol; in another few weeks his condition worsened again. He now believed that his “brain rotted away” and his internal organs were gone but he had no suicidal ideation. Although electroconvulsive therapy is efficacious in the treatment of this illness, he did not receive this treatment as he was unable to pay for such services.

He managed to continue his treatment with haloperidol and valproic acid doses tapered, 40 mg of fluoxetine, and 3 mg of risperidone a day. He made slow progress and was discharged with no recurrence of his delusions.  

20 year old male diagnosed with bipolar disorder due to three manic episodes but without any depressive episodes (also had family history of bipolar disorder). His treatment consisted in lithium carbonate, 800mg/day. However, his condition worsened in only two weeks; he became isolated and entered a depression phased characterized by loss of appetite and psychomotor retardation. Nihilistic delusions appeared shortly: “my liver and stomach are being destroyed”, “my heart doesn’t beat”, “I don’t have muscles”, “I am dead”.

There was no pathology in the brain CT, laboratory assessment was within normal levels, physical examination was normal and he was admitted with bipolar disorder, severe depressive episode with psychotic symptoms. His treatment was changed and 225 mg of imipramine was added. However, this made his condition even worse: he became mute, refused to eat or drink and presented psychomotor inhibition and catatonic stupor. ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) was administered and the patient’s condition improved; however, the family stopped the sessions.
After discontinuing ECT, the patient’s condition worsened again, this time presenting the following symptoms: slowness in movement and speech and hypochondriacal delusions. The delusions consisted in: he belied that his tonsils were deteriorating, his heart was smaller and his muscles were degenerating.
The author states that after adding haloperidol 8mg/day, biperiden 4mg/day the symptoms began to improve and the patient was discharged 14 days later with almost full remission.  

The first case study presents a 33 year old housewife with paranoid ideas and auditory hallucinations suffers from the following delusions: she believes that her brother-in-law put needles into her genitalia and her guts had been mutilated and stitched back again.
Her auditory hallucinations consisted in voices that told her that her three children were going to die either struck by lightning, sold away or killed in an accident. She ran to their school to see if something was happening and called the police. Her condition got worse as she believed that her abdomen was opening up and her head and hand were chopped off. She also believed that her husband was poisoning her food. As she was suffering for paranoid schizophrenia she was treated with electroconvulsive therapy and trifluoperazine. She had complete remission after fifteen months of antipsychotic drug treatment.

The second case study presents a 43 year old woman who had major depression. She had problems sleeping, loss of appetite and an apathy that prevented her from doing housework. Her delusions were linked to the staff in the hospital where she was admitted who were laughing at her and accusing her of wasting money on medical care; she also thought that newspapers were reporting negatively about her. She also thought that her family was in severe debt and several countries were in major wars. The delusions from Cotard’s syndrome spectrum were related to her abdomen, which she thought it was dead, rotten and filled with water.

In literature, it seems that organic disorder in Cotard’s syndrome is more frequent in female patients but no studies were ever made to support this. It also seems to be more frequent in people under 23 years of age with a family history of affective disorder.
Because it can be a symptom of many illnesses its treatment depends greatly on the underlying psychiatric illness. If you want to read more on this syndrome you should check up the links posted throughout this article. 

An interesting article on Cotard's syndrome here